The Government is not getting “fair credit” for its level of investment in the NHS, the health secretary, has said.

Speaking to delegates at the King’s Fund annual conference, Hunt said the Government had made very significant increases in NHS funding while money was “very, very short”.

He said: “I’ll be very upfront with you – I don’t think that the Government gets fair credit for the priority that we have given for NHS finance.

“We have to operate within the economic context of the country. NHS funding comes from the tax revenues in the economy.”

He said the country continues to “have very severe economic challenges” yet the Government's “per capita real spending on NHS has gone up by 10% over the last six years”.

He added: “That is a significant increase at a time when money has been very, very short.”

However, he also admitted that “it doesn’t feel like that on the front line, because at the same time as that increase we have had a very, very significant increase in demand and we’re looking after a million more over 75s than we were five years ago”.

His comments come as the House of Commons Health Committee criticised the Government for “misleading” the public over NHS finances.

Dr Sarah Wollaston, chair of the committee, asked the Government to stop “pretending the NHS is awash with cash”.

The committee's calculations, based on traditional accounting standards and the Spending Review period, concluded the NHS investment is more like £4.5bn than the £10bn the Government is claiming to be adding to the annual NHS budget by 2020/21.

Mr Hunt also defended missed NHS waiting times targets in his speech.

He said: “We need to understand that we have been doing a lot better on access than we are being given credit for even now.

“If you look at mental health for example, 1,400 more people are accessing mental health services every day compared to six years ago.

“If you look at A&E – 2,500 more people are being seen in A&E departments within the four hours every single day compared to six years ago.

He added that cancer care has seen 16,000 more diagnostic tests everyday with 130 more people starting treatment for cancer daily.

“And by any account that is a massive expansion in access to healthcare even if some of the access targets are not being met,” he said.

Carolyn Wickware