Winter pressure in the NHS will not let up until Easter at the earliest, the Society of Acute Medicine has said.
The health service was “brought to its knees” over the colder months, according to the Society, which represents hospital specialists in acute medicine.
Its president, Dr Nick Scriven, said that recent winters have been getting “progressively worse” for the NHS.
“With the general population trends along with the constant reduction in acute hospital beds, every winter has been getting progressively worse in the NHS and this year the flu surge brought it to its knees,” he told the Press Association.
“The pressure is ongoing – there is no let up at all – and nothing will realistically change until after Easter, which will further stretch the workforce who are the lifeblood of the NHS.”
He added: “Last autumn, NHS Improvement said the system had not recovered by October from the previous winter and this is without a doubt worse than that.
“Those in charge really need to start thinking about how we can sustain acute and urgent care going forward and plan in advance to maximise preparation.”
Figures released earlier this month showed that the NHS’s main performance target in accident and emergency departments hit its lowest level since it was introduced.
Just 85% of patients were admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours of arrival in A&E in February, according to figures released by NHS England. The target of 95% has not been met since July 2015.
The health body said that staff had been faced with working in a “perfect storm” of appalling weather, persistently high hospital admissions due to flu, and a renewed spike in norovirus.
The worst flu season in the last seven years, along with high rates of norovirus, have meant that 5,000 beds a day have been needed to care for people with these conditions – the equivalent of 10 acute hospitals, Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England said earlier this month.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “Theresa May’s NHS winter crisis is already stretching into spring and hospitals remain full to bursting.
“The fact is that NHS services have been stretched to breaking point by years of Tory underfunding and staff simply don’t have the resources they need to do their job.
“Basic standards of care are being missed because of the overwhelming pressure which this Government has forced onto the NHS. Ministers must now act on this high level warning about the dangers
that patients could face in the months ahead.”
An NHS England spokesman said: “It’s no secret that lingering flu and the recent spells of cold weather will continue to put pressure on hospitals but – thanks to the continued efforts of staff – the NHS is continuing to treat more patients than last year and delayed transfers of care has fallen to its lowest since August 2015.
“The National Emergency Pressures Panel is also continuing to support trusts as they come out of winter and planning for next year has already begun.”