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The scale of the crisis facing UK hospitals in the third wave of the Covid pandemic is laid bare with alarming NHS updates.

Ten hospitals in the South East and seven in the Midlands are currently classed as being at full stretch, while one is at "emergency" level.

Other regions are feared to be facing equally bleak situations.

Earlier today an ambulance service chief said patients are being forced to wait up to nine hours before they are admitted.

It comes nearly a week after Boris Johnson plunged England back into lockdown following an alarming surge in cases.

Latest data shows 6,255 people have died in the past seven days.

The number of Covid patients in hospital has soared

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One hospital, Darent Valley Hospital in Kent, is at Critcon 4 – the highest alert level, meaning lack of resources means critical care may be withdrawn.

And an NHS dashboard seen by the Health Service Journal mean 17 more are at Critcon 3 – meaning hospitals are at full stretch and critical care areas need to be expanded.

The HSJ has not reported levels in all regions, and

The hospitals at Level 3, the HSJ reports, are

  • Conquest Hospital, Hastings
  • East Surrey Hospital, Redhill
  • Eastbourne DGH;
  • Maidstone Hospital
  • Medway Maritime Hospital
  • Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading
  • Stoke Mandeville Hospital
  • Tunbridge Wells Hospital
  • Wexham Park Hospital
  • Wycome Hospital
  • Good Hope Hospital, Birmingham
  • Heartlands Hospital, Birmingham
  • Kings Mill Hospital, Sutton-in-Ashfield
  • Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham
  • Royal Stoke University Hospital
  • Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospital
  • Worcester Hospital

Patients are waiting for up to nine hours to be handed over, ambulance service bosses say
(Image: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

NHS workers say the situation facing hospitals is dire, and experts warn it will get worse
(Image: PA)

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Tracy Nicholls, chief executive of the College of Paramedics, said some ambulance crews have reported waiting up to nine hours to transfer a patient to hospital staff in areas where there is increased pressure on NHS services.

She told Sky News' Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme there have also been delays in getting ambulances to people in need, with some waiting "up to 10 hours" in high-pressure areas.

Ms Nicholls said: "It (the ambulance service) is under unprecedented pressure.

"We are very used to seeing ambulance services take some strain over the winter months due to the normal pressures we would see any particular year.

The number of Covid patients in UK hospitals has soared
(Image: Getty Images)

"But this year particularly has seen incredible pressure because of the clinical presentation of the patients our members are seeing. They are sicker."

Doctors have warned that pressure on the NHS could get worse in the coming weeks, as figures for Covid-19 cases, hospital admissions and deaths hit record highs.

The number of coronavirus patients in hospital in England stood at a record 29,346 as of 8am on Friday, up by 30% from a week ago, while admissions also hit a new high, according to NHS England figures.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said "the pressure on the NHS is very, very bad" as a result of coronavirus.

He told Sky News' Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: "The single biggest thing that anybody can do is to follow the stay at home guidance."

Things are likely to get worse before they get better for the health service, according to Dr Simon Walsh, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association's consultants committee.

The London-based emergency care doctor said the epidemiology from the previous wave indicates that the situation is likely to worsen over the next two to three weeks.

He told BBC Breakfast on Saturday: "I'm afraid all of us who are working on the front line believe, and this is based on the evidence I'm afraid, that it is going to get worse before it gets better."