The health secretary has this afternoon called the leaders of five hospital trusts that have failed to hit accident and emergency waiting times targets, HSJ has learned.

Jeremy Hunt took the unprecedented step of calling the leaders of a number of organisations that missed the target of 95 per cent of patients being seen within four hours.

This is despite the 2012 Health Act removing responsibility for the day to day running of the health service from the health secretary and giving it to NHS England, which would normally be expected to intervene alongside regulators in cases of poor perfomance.

Figures released today show the 10 lowest performing trusts against the 95 per cent target are: Heart Of England Foundation Trust, Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals Trust, Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust, East Cheshire Trust, Wirral University Teaching Hospital Foundation Trust, Nottingham University Hospitals Trust, Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust, University Hospitals Of Leicester Trust, King’s College Hospital Foundation Trust and Walsall Healthcare Trust.

North Bristol Trust and Heart of England Foundation Trust were among the five trusts who received a call.

Heart of England chief executive Mark Newbold commented under the online version of this story: “My perception was that the secretary of state was seeking to understand the reasons why we are struggling with emergency pressures. He asked about both internal factors and external system issues and constraints, including both health and social care. We also discussed the ‘winter monies’ and how they were helping.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “Jeremy Hunt would not be doing his job if he wasn’t keeping in touch with hospitals on the front line in the run-up to winter and it is ridiculous to suggest he should not be talking and listening regularly to feedback about how things are going.”

HSJ reported last month that the heads of Monitor, the Care Quality Commission and the NHS Trust Development Authority had been summoned in to see the prime minister over A&E performance.

NHS England last week began publishing its “winter pressures” data which includes more detailed information on trust performance, including cancelled operations, ambulance diverts and A&E closure.