Jeremy Hunt has claimed Labour's proposals to scrap corporation tax cuts are "mortally dangerous" to the NHS amid renewed concerns over his approach to A&E targets.
The Health Secretary said Jeremy Corbyn's suggestion revealed a "fundamental misunderstanding" about how to fund the health service, adding it would risk growth post-Brexit and be "dangerous" to the economy.
Mr Hunt sought to shift the focus back on to Labour after shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth demanded urgent guarantees the Government will not "water down" a key NHS target to deal with patients within four hours of their arrival at A&E.
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The Cabinet minister suggested earlier this week that the four-hour standard should not apply to non-urgent cases.
Mr Ashworth urged Mr Hunt to commit to maintaining the target as he also asked the Government to make more money available to the NHS and social care services.
Mr Hunt told the Commons on Monday there was a need to "protect" the target for the most serious cases, with people who turn up to A&E inappropriately sent elsewhere for care.
His comments appeared to suggest that the four-hour target could be watered down because it currently applies to all patients who go through A&E.
Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Hunt said the Government is sticking to the four-hour target but did not want it "to be followed slavishly in a way that damages patient care".
Replying to an opposition day debate on the NHS and social care, Mr Hunt addressed Labour leader Mr Corbyn's proposal to put extra cash into the NHS by scrapping corporation tax cuts.
He said: "This reveals, I'm afraid, a fundamental misunderstanding about how you fund the NHS.
"Corporation taxes are being cut so that we can boost jobs and strengthen the economy so that we can fund the NHS.
"The reason we've been able to protect and increase funding in the NHS in the last six years, when the party opposite was not willing to do so, is precisely because we've created two million jobs and we've given this country the fastest growing economy in the G7 - and that is even more important post-Brexit.
"So to risk that growth, which is what their proposal will do, would not just risk funding for the NHS - it'd be dangerous for the economy and mortally dangerous for the NHS."
Liberal Democrat former health minister Norman Lamb pushed Mr Hunt over his remarks on the four-hour A&E target, asking: "Is it conceivable that some of the people who are currently within the A&E target will at some stage fall outside the A&E target in the future?"
Mr Hunt replied: "I am committed to people using A&Es falling within the four-hour target.
"But I also think we need to be much more effective at diverting people who don't need to go to A&Es to other places, as is happening in Wales, as is happening in Scotland, and as frankly is the only sensible thing."
Leading the debate, Mr Ashworth sought clarity over Mr Hunt's position on the four-hour A&E target.
He asked: "If the Secretary of State is not moving away from this four-hour standard I'm afraid he needs to clarify matters urgently because the impression has been given that he is moving away from the four-hour standard.
"If he is not moving away from the four-hour standard can he give a guarantee that he will not shift away at all throughout this Parliament from the four-hour standard and it will remain at the current rate?"
Later in the debate, Mr Ashworth said Mr Hunt was "denying that he is going to water down the A&E target".
He said: "We welcome that but we will watch carefully to ensure that he doesn't sneakily water it down throughout the remaining years of this Parliament."
Labour is calling on the Government to bring forward extra funding immediately for social care to help alleviate the pressures faced by hospitals this winter.
It also wants ministers to commit to a new and improved funding settlement for the NHS and social care in the March Budget.
Mr Hunt said the Government would not be downgrading the four-hour target for patients to be seen in A&E, calling it "one of the best things the NHS does".
Mr Hunt said he wanted to divert people who did not have a medical emergency away from A&E, which the health secretary of the Welsh government has also called for.
Earlier while addressing Mr Ashworth, the Health Secretary said: "He made in his motion and in his speech the totally spurious suggestion that we are not committed to that target.
"What I said was not just committing the Government to the target, but I said it was one of the best things the NHS does.
"But I also said that we need to find different ways to offer treatment to people who do not need to be in A&E.
"This is hardly rocket science. When you have pressure in A&E, it is sensible, and indeed I would argue the duty of the health secretary, to suggest people who can relieve pressure on A&Es by using other facilities do so."
He added: "That is why we need the public's help to relieve pressure, and that is what I meant when I talked about an honest discussion."
Mr Hunt also said the NHS had endured difficult winters in the past, telling MPs: "What is wrong about what the shadow health secretary has just said is the suggestion that winter problems are entirely unusual.
"The NHS had difficult winters in 1999, 2008 and 2009."
SNP health spokeswoman Philippa Whitford said it is predominantly an NHS England crisis.
She said: "We haven't had a really bad winter. We've not had bitter weather and we haven't had a flu epidemic.
"What we see when we look at the four-hour data is the last one that was published was October, when the NHS in England managed to achieve the four-hour target 83.7% of the time.
"That's 5% down from the same time the previous year and compares with 93.9% in Scotland.
"Scotland managed 93.5% in Christmas week. So I'm sorry the crisis in Scotland, we have our challenges but it is not the same as is being described here."
Labour former chief whip and former health minister Dame Rosie Winterton stressed the importance of keeping the four-hour target.
She said: "There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the A&E target led to improved care for patients and dramatically reduced the waiting times which the evidence showed. The evidence was clear. That is what happened."
She also suggested a way to alleviate pressure on A&E departments.
She said: "The single most effective step to ease the pressure at the moment on accident and emergency departments would be to immediately increase funding into social care because that would keep people away from accident and emergency departments and that could be done straight away.
"There are the personnel out there - it just needs the Government to make the decision to increase the funding."
Dame Rosie suggested Mr Hunt was "trying to use every excuse not to face up to the reality of what is happening".
Tory former health minister Sir Simon Burns said the integration of health and social care had not matched the ambition of John Major's government.
Sir Simon said: "I was the minister for social care in the late 1990s before we left office, where integrating health and social care was in its very early, formative stage.
"The ambitions were immense and tremendous. I'm afraid the reality has not matched the ambitions of what was being said in the 1990s."
Conservative MP Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) said England needs to put more money into the NHS to bring the quality of care up to the same standards of Germany and France "whose outcomes are much better than this country, and it's no coincidence they spend much, much more on healthcare".
He said: "We do not spend as much on the National Health Service as we need to spend. That is the bottom line."
Helen Whately, Tory MP for Faversham and Mid Kent, attacked Labour for failing to set out policies to deal with problems in the NHS "other than suggesting more money but with no proposals for actually where that more money comes from".
She added: "I would encourage members opposite, particularly to, rather than the perhaps knee-jerk or even tear-jerk contributions that we have had from some members today, to actually take a longer view at the situation to help us have a more mature conversation about what the NHS needs."
Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, Labour MP for Tooting, said: "As a citizen of this country and a patient of the NHS I find the Secretary of State's refusal to accept responsibility for the state of the A&E departments in this country deplorable."
Labour's Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) told MPs of two stories from constituents which she said showed the scale of the crisis.
She told the Commons: "A constituent of mine went to visit her grandad in hospital.
"Very sadly, she found him dead in his bed on the ward, because the nurses were too overworked and missed the fact he was at the end of his life and had passed away.
"He died alone while his relatives were at home, completely unaware of quite how seriously ill he was."
She added that another constituent turned up at A&E last week to be told she would have to wait 10 hours to see a doctor.
Ms Sherriff said: "It soon transpired that she had sepsis, a potentially fatal illness, and it was only down to an overworked and stressed triage nurse who recognised her symptoms and immediately instigated treatment that she is alive today."
However, Conservative Maria Caulfield, who has been a nurse for more than 20 years, said problems in the NHS over the winter "is not an unusual thing to happen".
The Lewes MP added: "It's absolutely outrageous for members opposite to suggest that this is something new.
"They're in denial if they believe this hasn't been happening for many, many years."
The Labour motion was defeated, with 209 MPs voting for it and 295 against, majority 86.
The Government amendment, which removed Labour's call for extra funding and instead praised the current plan, was passed unopposed.