A&E units could collapse in the not-so-distant future unless urgent changes are made to the way they are run, doctors and managers have warned.
Amid growing fears that the NHS will not be able to cope with rising demand, both the College of Emergency Medicine and Foundation Trust Network have put forward proposals to overhaul the system.
Funding, staffing and better non-emergency services have been all highlighted as key issues, with ministers and the NHS regulator recently admitting the problems were a cause for concern.
A&E attendances have risen by 50% in a decade, with growing pressure across the whole of the UK.
This winter, for example, the NHS in England started missing its four-hour waiting time target, while reports have even emerged of hospitals setting up temporary waiting areas in car parks and storerooms to cope with queues.
Ambulances have even been forced to wait to drop off patients due to excessive demand.
The College of Emergency Medicine said the scale of the challenge facing the NHS and A&E was the biggest for a decade.
Its review - based on feedback from more than half the A&E units in the UK - revealed a shortage in both middle-grade and senior doctors. At present, the average consultant headcount for an A&E is 7.4 - well short of the recommended 10 to 16.
The college suggests locating urgent care centres beside emergency departments to help cut unnecessary attendances. It believes between 15% and 30% of patients do not need A&E care and instead could be treated in non-emergency settings.
Meanwhile, the Foundation Trust Network highlighted the funding system in England that penalises A&E units seeing a rise in patients.
Hospitals are only paid 30% of the normal fee for an emergency admission when the numbers rise above the levels that were seen in 2008-9. But with the NHS failing to curb the rise in patients, this rule is costing some hospitals millions of pounds a year.
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