Children aged two and three will be vaccinated against flu for the first time as one of a number of measures to prevent a winter health crisis.

The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, presented the step as part of his strategy to help the most vulnerable during the winter months after announcing an ambitious plan to overhaul the way A&E departments cope with increased pressure.

He said NHS trusts will have to ensure that 75 per cent of all their staff have been vaccinated against flu to gain access to a new £500m A&E fund next year.

Around 750,000 patients attend their GPs with flu-like symptoms each year and 27,000 are admitted to hospital. Mr Hunt said the NHS would be launching a campaign to prevent flu from affecting services.

The Health Secretary claimed that the support being put in place meant the NHS should be able to keep to its four-hour waiting time requirement – which he described as “tough” but “entirely possible”.

But the shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, said the plans were “half-baked”.