A winter crisis is looming large for the NHS as a larger than expected increase in patient demand puts trusts under pressure.
A Nuffield Trust review of four weeks of hospital data in the run up to Christmas shows that 50 of 152 English hospital trusts were at the highest or second highest level of pressure.
During the time period, seven trusts had to declare the highest level of emergency 15 times.
Official NHS figures published on Friday showed that for the period from 28 December to 2 January, two trusts declared the highest level of emergency on one day each and 17 trusts declared the second highest level.
Meanwhile, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine’s regular monitoring of A&E waiting times revealed that only 78% of patients were seen within the four hour target this week.
This is the worst level of performance recorded in the two years the annual project has run. The College said that given the link between the standard and clinical outcomes for patients the government needs to provide more resources.
Nigel Edwards, the chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, said the situation could deteriorate further in the next two weeks when the NHS was usually most stretched.
“The real crunch point generally comes in week two or three after the Christmas break … there are early signs that there is a problem,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
In a statement, NHS England said: “The NHS’s tried and tested plan is currently managing the ongoing pressures of winter. The public can play their part avoiding going to A&E and using their local pharmacy and NHS 111.”