Figures published by NHS England show that waiting list figures have risen steeply from 2.56 million at the end of 2012.
The Department of Health commented that fewer patients were waiting longer than the 18-week target time than in 2010.
The median waiting time between referral and start of treatment in the NHS was the same in June 2013 and in June 2012 (5.7 weeks), so the increase in numbers of patients waiting reflects increasing demand.
The increasing demand, in turn, may be linked to deep recent cuts in social care services and welfare funding, as well as worsening unemployment.
A DH spokesman said: “The number of patients waiting longer than 18 weeks is nearly 55,000 lower than in May 2010, and the number of people waiting for more than a year to start treatment is the lowest it has ever been.”
The relevance of performance against waiting time targets is controversial. Former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said in 2010 that hospital waiting time targets were “bureaucratic”, and NHS Chief Executive David Nicholson said earlier this year that they had contributed to the Mid Staffs tragedy.
In addition, trusts have been targeted on ‘referral management’, and last year Nicholson praised the fall in referrals – which artificially depresses the number of people on waiting time lists, as well as increasing pressure on A&E departments.