Doctors are struggling to meet government accident and emergency waiting time targets because of a shortage of beds, doctors' leaders warned. In a survey for the British Medical Association (BMA), 87 per cent of doctors questioned said the lack of in-patient beds was the main reason for not meeting targets.

The Government target is that 98 per cent of patients should wait no more than four hours from arrival at A&E to admission, transfer or discharge.

Don MacKechnie, chairman of the BMA's emergency medicine committee, said: "Many hospitals have cut bed numbers as part of their attempts to balance their books. This means that there are fewer available beds for patients coming through A&E who need to be transferred within four hours to a hospital ward from the emergency department to meet the Government's access target."