Patients being treated in NHS hospital corridors are ‘dying prematurely’ according to a letter from A&E chiefs warning Theresa May of “very serious concerns” about patient safety.
Sixty-eight senior doctors in charge of some of the busiest accident and emergency departments in England and Wales said safety compromises are becoming “intolerable”.
The letter includes accounts from frontline A&E doctors, one of whom warned 120 patients a day were being treated in corridors because of a lack of space on wards.
It adds that some of these people are dying prematurely as a result and says that serious cases of deaths and delays reported in recent weeks "are not outliers" and are happening around the country.
The Prime Minister and Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt last week repeatedly claimed the NHS is better prepared than ever before this winter.
But the letter says: “Our experience at the frontline is that these plans have failed to deliver anywhere near what was needed.
“The fact remains however that the NHS is severely and chronically underfunded. We have insufficient hospital and community beds and staff of all disciplines especially at the front door to cope with our ageing population’s health needs.”
Other issues raised in the letter, first reported in the Health Service Journal, include patients waiting up to 12 hours for a bed after doctors had decided to admit them, with queues of 50 patients waiting in one emergency department.
Mrs May said that the cancellation of 55,000 appointments last week was “part of the plan” for the NHS this winter, but said of her Government’s response so far “nothing is perfect”.
The doctors end their letter by apologising to patients, and adds: “We feel compelled to speak out in support of our hardworking and dedicated nursing, medical and allied health professional colleagues and for the very serious concerns we have for the safety of our patients.
“The current level of safety compromise is at times intolerable, despite the best efforts of staff."
When asked about the serious concerns highlighted in the letter, the Department of Health and Social Care said it was grateful for the hard work of staff, and insisted numbers of senior A&E doctors had increased since 2010.
A spokesperson said: “There has been a 68.7% increase in the number of A&E consultants since 2010, and the NHS was given top priority in the recent Budget with an extra £2.8bn allocated over the next two years.
"But we know there is a great deal of pressure in A&E departments, and we are grateful to all NHS staff for their incredible work in challenging circumstances."
This comes as official figures show NHS A&E waiting times have hit record levels.
Performance against the target of seeing 95 per cent of patients within four hours fell to 77.3 per cent in major emergency departments.
It also follows another letter from hospital representatives, NHS Providers, warning the health service is at a “watershed moment” and can no longer meet the standards of care set out in the NHS Constitution.
NHs Providers called for the budget to be increased to £153bn by 2022/23 – up from £122bn this year.
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, asked how many more warnings Theresa May needed to hear before she pledged more funding to the health service.
“This damning message from frontline clinicians could not be any clearer," he added.
"Patient care is acutely suffering because of this Government’s chronic underfunding of our NHS, which has left 92,000 patients languishing in the back of ambulances and staff vacancies of over 100,000.
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