January saw the worst A&E performance in NHS history

Hospital wait

Patients wait for beds in an NHS corridor. File

Mr Hunt did say sorry to patients, telling the programme: "I take responsibility for everything that happens in the NHS".

"Our focus is always on trying to achieve those headline national targets because we see those as a measure of quality and experience for patients, and a measure of staff and the way they are caring for patients", he said.

An NHS England spokesman said: "Despite the worst flu season in seven years, A&E performance improved this month". Others have warned that "distressing scenes of patients in corridors on trolleys have become an all too familiar sight this winter".

"It follows the Prime Minister's weird comment last month that cancelled operations were "part of the plan" for the NHS and that "nothing is perfect", he said.

The 77.1 per cent figure for Type 1 A&E departments, those staffed by consultants providing 24-7 emergency care, was the lowest on record, down from 77.3 in December.

Due to ongoing failings, the government announced last week that it has suspended the financial penalties associated with the four-hour target until April 2019 and in January ordered NHS trusts to suspend all non-urgent care.

Jeremy Hunt has admitted the NHS is experiencing "probably the worst" winter crisis ever, but suggested staff knew what to expect when they signed up.

However, the latest flu statistics show that GP consultation rates for flu have fallen in the past week from 52.1 per 100,000 in the week previous, to 43 per 100,000.

Similar performance is being recorded in Scotland, while Wales and Northern Ireland are doing even worse.

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A&E at Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham in January.

"We now do not have adequate funding or capacity in our health or social care services and we need to urgently find a long-term solution".

Hospitals recorded their worst performance against the four-hour A&E treatment target last month as the NHS came under unprecedented strain because of winter and the flu outbreak.

81,003 patients waited for more than four hours to be seen, treated or discharged. "We need to start treating people in the community better".

A spokesperson for the Royal College of Surgeons said: 'These performance figures show just how tough it was for hospitals this winter, with further lengthening of waiting times in A&E despite cancellation of planned surgery to free up capacity.

'Staff can not be expected to continue absorbing this pressure indefinitely - a sustainable funding settlement and new workforce strategy is urgently needed'.

Hospital emergency departments have now had to divert patients elsewhere 287 times since the NHS began recording winter performance data on 20 November.

'Neither of these were unpredictable but both have combined to cause the issues that have been widely reported across the country.

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