A LETTER to council chiefs by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in which he urges them to redouble their efforts to cater for ill and elderly patients has been blasted as “patronising” and “an insult”.

Mr Hunt said the health and care system remained under unprecedented pressure following recent severe winter weather and during the worst flu season for eight years would face further challenges over the coming weeks.

He said he wanted a further, additional focus over the weekend and into next week to support safe and timely discharge from hospitals and “improved patient flow” across the system.

David Walsh, Redcar and Cleveland’s cabinet member for social care, said: “Mr Hunt wants us to hasten up discharges of sick and vulnerable back home of into residential homes, and to somehow increase capacity, seemingly at the drop of a hat, at a time when we are having to make massive million plus budget cuts to our services.

“We are doing the job. Our staff were magnificent a fortnight ago, on one occasion working with the Cleveland Mountain Rescue to do the kind of care work out in the community Mr Hunt is demanding of us and they will do it again, but they don’t need ludicrous, patronising letters from Tory ministers to motivate them.”

Cllr Walsh said a council tax levy the Government has allowed councils to impose to pay for adult social care was just a case of "holding the ring".

Mr Hunt's letter, which has also been sent to NHS Trust Hospitals and Clinical Commissioning Groups, also attracted the ire of council leader Sue Jeffrey.

Cllr Jeffrey said: “Our NHS colleagues are doing the job they dedicate themselves to, and like us, they don’t need goading from Whitehall.”

Mr Hunt called on councils to work closely with hospital and community services to deliver weekday levels of discharges across the weekend and to ensure that social work staffing levels were sufficient to support this.

Councillor Andrew Scott, cabinet member for health and housing on Darlington Borough Council, said: “The letter sent by Jeremy Hunt to councils is quite frankly an insult.

“Collectively we have already made significant improvements by reducing the delays in patients transfer of care from NHS services to Social Care services. Of course, more can be done and we will improve further.

“But this Government has decimated our budgets and Mr Hunt makes no mention of the impact this has had on social care.”

Clare Williams, regional secretary with Unison, which represents healthcare workers, predicted the health service and social care sector would be under almost as much strain in the summer as they were now.

Ms Williams called on Chancellor Philip Hammond to “come up with the cash” that the NHS and local councils desperately needed if they were to deal with ever rising demands on their services.

A reporter contacted the Department of Health for comment, but did not receive a timely reply.