Jeremy Hunt ‘accepts picture’ of NHS on brink of collapse, but efficiencies must be found | NHS

The chancellor has said he accepts “the picture that the NHS is on the brink of collapse” but warned the struggling service will also need to play its part in helping fix Britain’s broken economy.

Jeremy Hunt said there were “massive pressures in the NHS … with doctors, nurses on the frontline frankly under unbearable pressure”. However, he said the service received a lot of money and “we need to do everything we can to find efficiencies”.

About 20,000 people a day are waiting at least four hours in A&E, NHS England figures show, with many others stuck in hospital corridors waiting for a bed, doctors’ leaders have warned.

Rishi Sunak vowed to prioritise the NHS in his first speech as prime minister, but the Times reported that the health secretary, Steve Barclay, did not want to ask for money for the service in the autumn statement. Sources close to Barclay have denied this, but did not reject claims he wanted to find cuts.

The general secretary of the Unison trade union, Christina McAnea, has accused the Tories of “deliberately running down the NHS” in an effort to allow an “organisation” to take over running it.

“Difficult things will happen if they do not make the right choices and one of those is the NHS is almost ready to collapse,” McAnea said. “Excuse me for sounding like a conspiracy theorist but I have heard so many people say it now: is this partly a deliberate attempt by the government to run down the NHS in order to bring in some kind of organisation to run it?

“I hope that’s not what they are doing. What they aren’t doing is making the right choices of investing in our public services.”

It comes as nurses plan to strike for the first time, taking action before Christmas.

Figures show 7.1 million people in England were waiting for hospital treatment at the end of September, the highest since records began in August 2007.

When asked about nurses’ pay demands, Hunt said: “I think we have to recognise a difficult truth: that if we gave everyone inflation-proof pay rises, inflation would stay, we wouldn’t bring down inflation, and that’s why I’m not pretending there aren’t some difficult decisions.”

The shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, said pay review bodies should work with unions to determine “fair but affordable pay rises” for nurses.