Jeremy Corbyn has said there is now a “12-month crisis” in the NHS and called for urgent investment.
The Labour leader met NHS staff at a community centre in Swindon, Wiltshire, to discuss additional pressures on the service during winter.
He pledged more funds, the return of nursing bursaries and the creation of a National Care Service, if Labour wins power.
Jeremy Corbyn meets NHS staff (Andrew Matthews/PA)
“It is no longer a winter crisis – it is a 12-month crisis in the NHS,” he said.
“The Prime Minister told the House of Commons that the NHS was fully prepared for all eventualities over winter.
“That was three weeks ago. We have had three weeks of crisis.”
Mr Corbyn said pressures on ambulance services, as well as accident and emergency wards, were part of a “wider problem”.
Nurses told him of patients spending 12 hours in chairs while waiting for beds, with up to 20 people in corridors at a time.
Community nurses spoke of having to complete up to 25 visits to patient homes in one shift.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (PA)
A mental health nurse described the care system as “completely broken”.
One representative from the GMB union said paramedics were left stressed by attending calls hours late.
A nurse said she would have been unable to train without a bursary, but had also racked up £12,000 in credit card debts.
When asked what struck him most about the visit, Mr Corbyn said it was the stress reported by NHS staff.
Responding to the accident and emergency waiting time figures, he said they were a “symptom” of other issues.
“We would put more resources – money – into the NHS straight away but also look into the wider question of why those figures are so high,” he said.
“It is a symptom of lots of other things. Some of those people come from care homes where there is not sufficient support for them.
“Some of those people have come in because of a level of desperation in their lives and they need that support.
“There has to be more resources put in.
“If you’ve got a car park full of ambulances, with highly skilled paramedics and ambulance staff in the ambulance trying to treat the patient but can’t go in because the A&E is full and there are no beds, then down the line there’s a whole lot more patients with chest pains, with strokes, who are not being treated because nobody can get to them.
“Very quickly you get into a pretty quick disaster.”
Mr Corbyn said the NHS should immediately be given “whatever they demand” financially to get through “this crisis”.