Families have been begged to come and collect their elderly, and look after them at home, amid a growing NHS beds crisis.
The urgent public notice came as 24 hospital trusts had last night declared “black alerts” signalling that they had run out of space or staff, and were taking extra measures.
This time last year, just two hospital trusts had issued such warnings.
Bedford Hospital NHS trust yesterday issued an “urgent” public notice pleading with relatives to offer help, as its bed occupancy reached 100 per cent.
The trust urged families to stay at hand, and be prepared to look after frail relatives at home, so beds could be emptied as quickly as patients were fit to leave them.
"Many of our patients are elderly and require support after discharge, and we ask that relatives support us and their loved ones by helping us discharge patients that are medically well to leave hospital; to return to the most appropriate environment such as their own home or a community care home,” the trust said.
The 24 trusts issuing warnings is likely to be an underestimate, as many NHS trusts refused to say whether or not they had been forced to take emergency measures, and such information is no longer published.
Yesterday the Health Secretary apologised to patients whose operations will be cancelled as a result of the mounting NHS crisis.
Mr Hunt said the decision to axe around 50,000 operations and thousands more appointments was "absolutely not what I want" but said it was better to cancel surgery now than at the last minute.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Theresa May has rejected claims that the NHS is in "crisis" saying the health service is better prepared "than ever before".
Mr Hunt said: "There are real pressures, no question about it. This is the busiest week of the year for the NHS” paying tribute to “heroic” efforts by staff.
"If you're the person whose got a very painful hip that needs replacing and you're told that it is going to be an extra month, that is a very, very big deal and I apologise to you and everyone in your situation.
"But I think, in this situation, it is better to be honest about the challenges we are facing at the front doors of our hospitals and deal with these pressures in a practical and measured way,” he said.
Around 55,000 operations, and many more outpatients appointments are being cancelled, with routine surgery suspended until at least February so staff can treat emergency cases.
Asked whether the NHS was crisis this winter, the Prime Minister yesterday ducked the question, paying tribute to staff for their hard work.
She added: "The NHS has been better prepared for this winter than ever before, we have put extra funding in.
"There are more beds available across the system, we've reduced the number of delayed discharges of elderly people who would otherwise have been in NHS beds rather than in social care."
Hospital trusts declaring highest state of emergency since January 1st
Under NHS protocols to track rising pressures and risks to patients, trusts are tracked on a four point scale called Operation Pressures Escalation Levels. The highest level - OPEL four - better known as a black alert - means safety could be compromised.
- Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- Bedford Hospital NHS Trust
- Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust
- Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust
- Isle of Wight NHS Trust
- Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust
- Medway NHS Foundation Trust
- Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust
- North Bristol NHS Trust
- North Tees and Hartlepool Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust
- Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust
- Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust
- Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust
- South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust
- Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust
- Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust
- Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust
- University Hospital Bristol NHS Foundation Trust
- University Hospitals Of Leicester NHS Trust
- Weston Area Health NHS Trust
- Wye Valley NHS Trust
- Yeovil District Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
An NHS chief executive has posted a picture of 14 ambulances queuing for his own Accident & Emergency unit, amid warnings of a deepening crisis across the NHS.
Andrew Foster, chief executive of Wrightington, Wigan & Leigh NHS trust sent the despairing tweet after admitting that A&E patients could expect waits of up to 12 hours.
Time to open up an ambulance Trust with the lovely fleet of 14 parked outside the front door @WWLNHS pic.twitter.com/FdisigqtXY— Andrew Foster (@andrewkfoster) January 3, 2018
The former Department of Health executive is among dozens of hospital chief executives saying NHS pressures since Christmas are far worse than have been seen in recent years.
One A&E doctor said the NHS was being forced to resort to “battlefield medicine,” evicting patients from resuscitation bays to make room for even sicker patients.
Dr Anu Mitra, from Imperial College Healthcare trust, said he was “ashamed” by the standards of care patients were receiving, with hospitals under unprecedented strain.
On Thursday official figures are expected to show how many patients faced long waits in ambulances in the period since Christmas, and how many Accident & Emergency units became so overloaded they had to turn patients away.
Why is the NHS under so much pressure?
NHS trusts are now embarking on plans to cancel almost all non-urgent surgery for the whole of January - up to 55,000 operations - with many also postponing outpatients appointments and daycase surgery.
A kidney patient whose operation was cancelled for the second time in a month is among thousands of “non-urgent” patients currently waiting to find out when the NHS will treat them.
Patients said they had been left in agony and distress, with many already having waited months for hip, knee and heart operations.
Dennis Kelly, 62, from Birmingham, was due to undergo surgery at Good Hope Hospital, in Sutton Coldfield yesterday to remove painful kidney stones. The operation had already been postponed once, having been due to take place in December, 10 months after he saw his GP.
While winters are worse, the 95% target hasn’t been met since 2015
Mr Kelly said he had been left in such pain he was forced to turn to A&E in the middle of the night, and was now left in “total frustration” having yet again booked time off work to go under the knife.
“I first saw the GP back in April, but now I am still waiting, and every time the operation is cancelled - I’ve been waiting the best part of a year, so it’s hardly a winter crisis”.
Meanwhile a GP in Oxfordshire told of his despair after heart surgery was cancelled on the day of admission, as John Radcliffe Hospital declared a “black alert” amid mounting pressures.
Dr Dave Triffitt, a GP and out-of-hours doctor, accused the Government of “trying to destroy the NHS” as he called for extra funding for the health service.
And the family of an elderly dementia sufferer said he had been left to languish on a hospital corridor for 36 hours, in conditions a doctor described as “third world”.
The number of people having huge A&E waits is spiking
The 80-year-old, who also suffers from epilepsy, was left on a trolley in the Royal Stoke Hospital from 4pm on Saturday despite having pneumonia. His daughter Jackie Weaver said the scenes at the unit were “absolutely horrendous," she said. "I have never witnessed anything like that before. There were a lot of elderly people who were clearly very distressed.
"You couldn't get past for all the trolleys in the corridors.” The trust said it was under “severe and sustained” pressure.