John Kell, Head of Policy at the Patients Association, said: “NHS England’s decision to defer elective surgery throughout January and authorise the use of mixed sex wards is a sign of how hard winter pressures are hitting the NHS this year. Combined with regular first-hand reports of worsening conditions in hospitals, including growing numbers of patients being treated on trolleys in corridors, it is clear how badly patients are losing out.

“Ministers must be accountable for this winter’s crisis. The policy decisions that have left the NHS in this position are taken by the Government, and it is ministers who are directly accountable to Parliament, and to patients when they vote at elections. It has long been obvious that all but the very mildest winter pressures would stretch the NHS mightily, and so it has proved.

“Objectively, the NHS’s performance and offer to patients are stronger now than they were 15 years ago or more, but the experiences of patients at times like this do not reflect that. Ministers must not allow the NHS to slide backwards in its 70th anniversary year to the point where its improved performance in the later 2000s seems like an isolated peak.”