Patient numbers at nine out of 10 England NHS trusts have been unsafe this winter, according to a new report on NHS figures.

Internationally-recognised guidelines suggest hospitals should operate at a maximum 85 per cent occupancy, in order to help manage infection risks and enable staff to respond to emergencies.

However, a BBC analysis of NHS England figures shows 137 of 152 hospital trusts have been operating above that level since December 2016. The report, which looks at occupancy rates between 1 December and 22 January, suggests at least 60 trusts were operating above 95 per cent.

The report comes as the government in England announced plans to charge foreign patients upfront for non-urgent care from April this year. Emergency treatment would continue to be provided and invoiced later.

“The crux of the problem is that our under-funded, under-resourced healthcare system is at breaking point, and this report and the desperately sad figures within it are further evidence of that,” said Madeleine Pinschof, a senior medical negligence solicitor at Thompsons Solicitors.

“When will the government wake up to the need for more funding and support? Staff on the frontline are reporting paramedics queuing in corridors and huge delays in A&E. They say the whole system seems to be backed up. It's about time the government listened to those on the frontline.

“This winter has been full of stories of desperate overcrowding, hospitals on ‘black alert’ and crisis in the NHS. When the situation is this dire, mistakes can happen and lives are put at risk.”