The Health Secretary has earmarked £300m for the NHS to help it deal with "unprecedented demand" over Christmas.

Jeremy Hunt said the additional funding could provide the equivalent of up to 1,000 extra doctors, 2,000 extra nurses and 2,500 extra bed spaces.

"Winter has always been particularly challenging for the NHS," the Conservative MP said.

"We have been thinking about it particularly hard this year because of the growing pressure on A&E departments," he said.

"Emergency admissions are growing about 3% to 4% year in, year out.

"We are very aware that over this winter there is going to be some real pressure there.

"The pressures are higher than they have ever been before in the system.

"It is worth also asking the question, 'Is this going to go on like this? Are we going to have to continue having to put more and more sums into the NHS to withstand these pressures?'

"And the answer is that it is not sustainable in the long run to say that all the extra pressure in the NHS has to be borne by A&E departments."

Sir Bruce Keogh, medical director of the NHS, also said he was "keen" to see people use pharmacies more as GPs during the winter are "really under strain".

"Pharmacists are excellent sources of advice but an older person feeling really unwell should never hesitate to seek immediate help from their GP," said Caroline Abrahams, director of external affairs at Age UK.