Staff shortages and a lack of beds are leaving the hospital service on "brink of collapse", a survey of doctors has revealed. Research by the Royal College of Physicians found a dwindling number of out-of-hours specialists and key emergency workers was straining services. One in 10 consultant posts in emergency medicine is vacant.

The number of beds in acute and general wards has fallen by a third over the past 25 years, as better care has led to shorter stays, while patient numbers have increased, the college's report, Hospitals on the Edge, said.

Patients are being discharged in the middle of the night and shifted from ward to ward "like parcels" to make space. The college said hospitals were on "black alert", meaning they are full, three or four times a year – something that used to be a "once-in-a-lifetime" event. One in 10 doctors would not recommend their place of work to a friend or family member for treatment, the college's survey of members and fellows found.

"Radical reorganisation" of the health service is needed, the RCP said, and one option could be shutting hospitals and focusing on 24/7 community care instead.

Prof Tim Evans, of the college's future hospital commission, said: "Acute wards are on the brink of collapse."

Sir Richard Thompson, president of the college, said: "One doctor told me that his trust does not function well at night or at the weekend and he is "relieved that nothing catastrophic has happened when he arrives at work on Monday morning."