Hospital accident and emergency departments are overstretched and understaffed with patients forced to wait in ambulances just to gain admission, shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has said.
Mr Burnham called on the government to ensure there are enough staff “on the ground” to provide safe care.
He told ITV Daybreak: “I think at the moment A&E is overstretched and understaffed.
“All over the country, we are hearing reports this winter of patients spending hours on trolleys.
“The government is missing its own lowered national A&E target, and also stories of patients held in queues in ambulances outside the A&E, can’t even get in the A&E because the staff aren’t there to admit them.
“We are going to release details later today of one patient in the west of England held for five hours and 42 minutes in the back of an ambulance outside an A&E.
“This is because they do not have enough staff on the ground to function properly, to bring the patients in.”
Mr Burnham’s remarks come as the Labour Party is due to publish its sixth NHS Check report, giving details of winter pressures and “crisis” in A&E departments.
He said: “Right now, the NHS, I think, is suffering because we have got too many hospitals that have cut staff to dangerously low levels.
“The regulator is saying that around one in six hospitals in England does not have adequate staffing levels.”
Mr Burnham said plans to close the A&E department at Lewisham Hospital in south-east London were “taking the NHS into new ground” and were “dangerous” given the pressure on A&E services.
The closure was proposed by special administrator Matthew Kershaw, who was appointed to sort out the debt crisis at South London Healthcare Trust.
“When we were in government we did close some A&Es because sometimes it makes sense to do that, you can save more lives by centralising services on one particular site, every locality cannot necessarily sustain an A&E,” he said.
“However, what is different about Lewisham is that this A&E is being closed purely on cost grounds.
“To solve financial problems in one trust, the government are saying they are going to take away the successful A&E department of another. That is taking the NHS into completely new ground.
“I think it is dangerous to do that, given the pressure that we seeing on A&E in London and right across the country.”