Patients are dying in 'intolerable' NHS crisis, A&E doctors tell Theresa May

Sturgeon urged to 'stop cutting hospital beds' at First Minister's Questions

"However, we are of course sorry for any extended waiting times experienced by patients and their families during this exceptionally busy period".

More than 5000 patients were forced to wait over four hours to be seen at accident and emergency departments between Christmas Day and Hogmanay, with hundreds others having to wait for more than 12 hours.

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.

It comes as official figures released today show the NHS ended the year with the same A&E waiting time performance level in December - 85.1 per cent - as at the start of the year, equalling January's record low and the worst result since the target was introduced in 2004.

Thousands of patients are waiting in ambulances for hours as the hospitals lack adequate space.

A spokesman for the Vic said the severity of cases seen last month meant people were spending longer on the ward, while the success of efforts to get patients with more minor conditions to seek treatment elsewhere - such as walk-in centres - meant a greater proportion of those seen at the hospital needed more intensive treatment, causing delays for other patients.

The signatories are from hospitals including major London teaching hospitals such as the Royal Free, King's College and Guy's and St Thomas's, as well as regional trauma centres such as the University Hospitals of North Midlands NHS trust, which runs the Royal Stoke hospital, as well as several of the seven health boards in Wales.

OnMedica reports that the organisation said pressures being experienced by front-line health and care services this winter "are a watershed moment for the NHS".

Sturgeon urged to 'stop cutting hospital beds' at First Minister's Questions
Alarming: A&E chiefs from 68 hospitals warn patients are 'dying prematurely'

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson called for a temporary halt on any planned cuts to hospital bed numbers.

The First Minister said: "N evertheless, Scotland's NHS remains the best-performing NHS anywhere in the United Kingdom".

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". That has gone to 107 per 100,000 - that is four times the level of flu in this week a year ago.

Chris Hopson of NHS Providers had told media: "Too often, in too many places, standards of care are compromised and patients' safety put at risk".

The Labour leader read an extract from a letter from Mr Wilson's son Michael to Health Secretary Shona Robison, which said: "I am sure you will say that it's got nothing to do with you or the SNP and blame Westminster".

He added: "That is an 80 year old man with underlying health conditions waiting more than 16 hours for treatment".

The figures show that bed occupancy levels have gone back up to 95%, but, more positively, delayed transfers of care - when a patient is ready to leave a hospital - were lower than at the same point in any of the past four years.

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