Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has sparked anger by claiming there are only problems at "one or two hospitals" despite claims of unbearable pressure on NHS services.
He made the comments after reports of a "humanitarian crisis" in the health service, as it emerged that the Red Cross is shoring up services in 20 accident and emergency departments.
Mr Hunt instead sought to explain wider pressure by saying the public should realise when it is not appropriate to go to A and E for a problem more appropriate for a visit to a GP.
In interviews he gave shortly before the Prime Minister prepared to give a speech setting out her plan to transform mental health services, Mr Hunt also argued the NHS is not suffering a lack of funding.
The head of the British Red Cross Mike Adamson today stood by his description of a "humanitarian crisis" gripping the NHS, after the Prime Minister rejected the suggestion.
Defending the Government's record, Mr Hunt told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: "Let’s look at independent people, people who do not support the Government often on other occasions are saying that was the wrong description.
"What is fair and what we have to deal with is the fact that we have some very serious problems in one or two hospitals and I wouldn’t minimise those at all."
Later on Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Hunt was confronted with news that there are now more than a dozen hospitals that have 100 per cent of their beds in use, whereas over the last five years there has never been a three month period where more than one hospital was at full capacity.
He argued that the NHS now had more doctors, nurses and funding than ever, but explained what he called "very serious problems at some hospitals" by suggesting pressures were increasing, in part because people are going to A and Es when they should not.
He said: "We need help from the public to understand that A and E departments are for accident and emergencies. They are not for things that could be sorted out by a GP."
Mr Hunt went on: "Around 40 per cent of the people in A and E departments don’t actually need the care of an A and E, we need to find other ways to look after their needs."
Denying that the Government is underfunding the NHS, Mr Hunt argued the UK spends more than the average for rich countries on the health services, despite admitting that it had 150 avoidable deaths in hospitals every week.
He said: "What I would say is that if we make the debate, whether it’s mental health or everything else in the NHS, just about money, we miss a trick because as we we’ve learnt in the debate we’ve had over education 20 years ago, it’s not just about funding, important thought that is.
"It’s also about standards and the quality of care."
Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said planned funding should be brought forward to help and NHS that "is in an absolutely dire situation on its knees."
He added: "The controversy has to be about the systematic underfunding of the NHS under Theresa May."
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