Overcrowded A&E units forced to turn away ambulance calls on 350 occasions

It is recognised that the NHS is under increasing pressure

NHS hospitals were forced to shut their doors to ambulances on more than 350 occasions last year because they were too full to cope with more emergency patients.

The number of times ambulances had to be diverted to other hospitals because of overcrowding in A&E jumped by 24 per cent over the winter months in the year to April.

Over the recent Bank Holiday weekend, the A&E unit at Royal Liverpool Hospital was forced to shut as it reached its full capacity on both Sunday and Monday.

Other hospitals to have suffered closures over the last month include Romford, Waltham Forest, Bromley, Lewisham, and Newham.

Labour's shadow health secretary, Andy Burnham, said that the latest figures provided “yet more evidence” that the crisis with A&E was worsening.

“David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt need to accept responsibility and develop an urgent plan to relieve this pressure,” he said.

A government spokesman said  that it recognised that the NHS was under increasing pressure because of rising demand and that it was looking to address the long-term problems facing A&E. The figures came as the man tipped to lead the NHS in England warned that up to 50 English hospitals were unsustainable in their current form and must consolidate if patient care was to improve.

Mark Britnell, who is considered the frontrunner to succeed Sir David Nicholson as the head of NHS England, said that too many NHS trusts were “running out of road”.

He claimed that unless the Government acted now to change  the way hospital care across the country was provided, patient care would suffer.

“We need the political and  professional courage to do what is right for patients,” Mr Britnell said.

“I think the Government  should be congratulated for sending the administrators in to Mid Staffordshire.

”They have recognised what a lot  of people have known in health for years - that in its current form it is neither clinically nor financially stable,“ he said.

”There are up to 40 or 50 or so (other) hospitals that may have to reconfigure,“ he added.

”Therefore this argument has to be won. And the debate has to be much more public. You can't have the NHS knowing the inside track without  having that debate with the public, even if it is painful.“

Mr Britnell, who spent 24 years working in the NHS before moving into private consultancy, made his comments in an interview with the magazine Public Servant.

They are especially pertinent as  he is expected to be one of the frontrunners to succeed Sir David as the boss of the NHS when he steps down next year.

Mr Britnell has previously been chief executive of a big teaching hospital, director of a regional health authority and currently works as a consultant for KPMG advising international health systems. He also advised David Cameron on health before the last election. In the magazine interview, Mr Britnell refused to be drawn directly on whether he would apply for the  top job in NHS England, but he added: ”What I will say is that I have got an unswerving passion for the NHS  and I would hope and expect to apply my global learning back to the NHS one day.“

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