Routine surgery has been cancelled as Bedford Hospital struggles to cope with unprecedented demand for emergency care.
Doctors have warned that seriously ill patients could be put at risk if the number of people turning up at A&E with minor illnesses and injuries continues.
The number of emergency admissions has increased by 25 per cent since Christmas, with the majority being very frail elderly patients over the age of 80.
This continuing surge means the hospital has a limited capacity for new admissions from A&E and has led to it having to postpone all routine surgery and a range of outpatient and diagnostic clinics to free up resources for those most in need.
Those with less serious health problems, such as ear infections and sore throats, are being told they will have to wait considerably longer to be seen at A&E and people are being advised to first see their GP, pharmacist or visit a walk-in health centre.
Emergency consultant Stuart Lloyd said: “A&E departments are here for people with life-threatening and emergency conditions, such as heart attacks, strokes, breathing problems and serious accidents.
“Patients with serious and life-threatening conditions should always receive priority care, but when people attend A&E with minor illnesses and injuries it means that our doctors and nurses cannot focus their attention on the most seriously ill patients, potentially putting lives at risk.
“A large number of patients who attend A&E with minor injuries and illnesses could be treated elsewhere, so we are urging people to consider using other NHS services first.”
Every available bed is currently open at the hospital to accommodate the increase in demand but the number of patients being admitted currently outweighs the number of people who are ready to be discharged.
Chief executive Stephen Conroy said: “We have today (Tuesday) reached a point in Bedford where we have needed to escalate our response with our partners.”
“Doing this enables us to increase our focus on our most ill patients and step up our management of our resources to ensure that we are seeing, treating and admitting those who most need our care.
“We are ploughing all our efforts into making sure that we provide the best possible care to those who need it, but we also need the support of local people by not coming to A&E unless it is a real emergency.”