The head of the NHS could risk his job unless he “calms” things down following his row about healthcare funding with Theresa May, senior Government sources say.
The remarks will increase pressure on Simon Stevens, who technically does not have to report to ministers as chief executive of the NHS in England.
Mr Stevens is at loggerheads with the Prime Minister amid a mounting crisis in Accident & Emergency units.
On Wednesday the NHS chief executive said Mrs May was “stretching it” to say that the NHS had been given more money than it asked for and said the NHS had been given less than it needed.
The source said the Government considered Mr Stevens was doing a good job running the NHS. But the source went on to say that Mr Stevens was only secure in the long term “as long as things calm down”.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman was forced to tell reporters in Westminster that Mrs May had full confidence in Mr Stevens for the second consecutive day.
Nick MacPherson, the former Treasury permanent secretary, also stepped into the row, writing on Twitter: “Simon Stevens [is] a good guy but he should not determine health spending. NHS bottomless pit. Money should be linked to reform.”
Stephen Dorrell, the chairman of the NHS Confederation, backed Mr Stevens, telling The Telegraph: “He is obviously a Cameron appointee, he has widespread respect. We should be looking at the evidence of what is happening. Simon is not saying ‘it is all impossible’. “What he is saying is that if we don’t invest particularly in social care but in a range of public services, and if the health service ends up as the only place where the light is on, then it won’t meet the demands being placed upon it.”
As head of NHS England, an arms-length body, set up under the Coalition, Mr Stevens does not report directly to ministers, but to the organisation’s chairman, Sir Malcolm Grant.
But any further withdrawal of Government support could make it difficult for him to continue in the role, which depends on close working with ministers.
The tensions come amid a deepening crisis in A&E units.
New figures show high rates of norovirus – which is 77 per cent higher than last year – and a sharp rise in flu.
The official statistics show that last week there were 18.8 cases of flu per 100,000 people, compared with 12 per 100,000 the week before.
Health officials say hundreds of doctors may be drafted in from India and Pakistan to plug the spiralling crisis.
The scheme will start in Greater Manchester, with 20 medics due to be flown from India this year for up to three years.
The region’s eight Accident & Emergency departments have been under severe strain in recent weeks amid staffing shortages.
Officials behind the plans said the scheme, backed by Health Education England, could be expanded in respond to widespread shortages of A&E doctors across the country.
The project is being run by the Greater Manchester devolution team and Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh Foundation Trust.
Andrew Foster, trust chief executive told Health Service Journal said the region’s A&E departments were now “very reliant on locums.”