The NHS could spend up to £15m on management consultants for advice as it draws up its sustainability and transformation plans (STPs), the country’s largest trade union has warned.

Unite has urged the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to make clear the true cost of the expenditure on management consultants surrounding the 44 STPs currently being drawn up in England, in a major reconfiguration which the union already worries will see closures or relocations of hospitals.

The union calculated the £15m figure after a report in the Coventry Telegraph revealed that NHS leaders responsible for Coventry and Warwickshire’s STP paid £343,000 to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) for advice on how to save money in their STP.

Unite’s national officer for health Sarah Carpenter said: “It is very disturbing news from Coventry and Warwickshire that the management consultants are again scooping up loads of taxpayers’ cash to proffer advice on the local STP.

“Any such funds would be much better spent on frontline services, such as under pressure A&E departments, rather than on jargon-filled reports.”

The news comes as the NHS is gripped in a winter crisis with A&Es overcrowding to the point that patient safety and care has started to be compromised.

Last week NHS England boss Simon Stevens scoffed at the government’s suggestion that the NHS had received “more than it asked for” financially while giving evidence to the Public Accounts Committee on the NHS’s financial sustainability, saying that that description would be “stretching it”.

Carpenter said that Stevens was right to raise serious concerns at the insufficient level of NHS funding and echoed calls for an urgent financial boost to be given to the health service.

“The NHS is reeling from a starvation of cash,” Carpenter added. “The health service is at crisis point and we have not yet reached the worst of the winter weather.”