Labour urges A&E emergency summit
Labour has called on the Government to convene an emergency summit of health, social care, council and emergency services to find ways to ease the pressures on struggling accident and emergency departments.
Several hospital trusts have been forced to activate major incident plans to cope with a surge in demand and David Cameron has admitted the NHS is under "pressure" after waiting times in England plummeted to their worst levels in more than a decade.
The Prime Minister dismissed union claims that the service was "on the brink of disaster" but shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said a co-ordinated plan was urgently needed to address a "rapidly-deteriorating position".
Mr Burnham sought to keep up the political pressure over the NHS - which the Opposition has put at the centre of its general election campaigning - after some health professionals warned of a looming crisis.
He published a letter to Jeremy Hunt accusing the Health Secretary of failing to anticipate the impact of cuts on social care capacity leaving frail elderly people " trapped in hospital" and blaming difficulties getting GP appointments and staff shortages for the delays.
Reports of fire engines and police cars being increasingly used as ambulances raised " major patient and public safety concerns", Mr Burnham wrote.
"Given this, and also given the rapidly deteriorating position, I believe you should call an urgent summit, including representatives from local government, the police, fire and ambulance services, as well as emergency care and other NHS professionals, to assess the situation and put in place a co-ordinated plan to ensure patient safety and support the performance of A&E departments across England, and minimise any avoidable further major incidents being declared."
"Patients are already being exposed to unacceptable levels of risk and the situation cannot be allowed to get any worse. Urgent action is needed to provide a coordinated response across Government from all public services."
The latest figures showed just 92.6% of patients were seen within four hours - notably below the 95% target and a marked fall on the worst performance previously recorded since the Coalition came to power of 94.1% at the start of 2013.
When broken down, the quarterly records show the country's major A&E departments fared even worse, with fewer than nine in 10 patients - 88.9% - being seen within the target.
Overall, 5.6 million patients turned up to emergency departments during the three months up to the end of December, the records show.
The BMA warned that records showed the "unprecedented levels of pressure" on the health service and the Royal College of Nursing said the system was in "crisis", blaming chronic under funding and staffing shortages.
The Prime Minister said there was a " short term pressure issue which we need to meet with resources and management".
"We've got a longer term issue which is making sure that there are named GPs in your local area which are responsible for every single frail, elderly person.
"A lot of the pressure on A&E is coming from frail, elderly people, often with many different health conditions and the best place for them, frankly, is not A&E.
"They should be being looked after by the family doctor or in other health settings and I think the long term challenge is to make sure those sorts of settings are more available."
Mr Cameron accused the union Unison or trying to "scaremonger" after it claimed the NHS is "on the brink of disaster".
He added: "I don't think it's remotely true or remotely responsible. The fact is the NHS is coping with a huge amount."
Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge became the latest hospital to activate a major incident plan to cope with the surge in demand.
Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, University Hospitals of North Midlands in Staffordshire, Walsall Manor Hospital and the Royal Bolton Hospital have also declared major incidents.