More than 20 hospitals in England have had to declare a black alert this week after becoming so overcrowded that they could no longer guarantee patient safety and provide their full range of normal services.
Unprecedented numbers of patients requiring care has led to at least 23 hospital trusts declaring they cannot cope since Monday.
Struggling hospitals have been forced to take highly unusual steps in order to manage a surge in demand for care. They include cancelling cancer operations, treating adults in children’s wards and even closing a birthing centre to help cope with a sudden influx of patients who need to be admitted for treatment.
University hospitals of Leicester NHS trust was under so much strain on Tuesday that it declared a “system critical incident” – even higher than a black alert – and had to make patients wait in ambulances before being offloaded into the care of A&E staff.