So what exactly is this 'humanitarian crisis' in the NHS?

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Senior doctors and the Red Cross have warned of a worrying crisis in A&E and the NHS.

Here are some of the big questions you may have, answered.

What is happening in A&E departments?

nhs logo (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
(Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Official data shows A&E departments are seriously struggling to cope with demand. The target of dealing with patients within four hours of them arriving is continually not being met.

Doctors say this could lead to unsafe practices as departments are overflowing.

What was it like towards the end of 2016?

hospital sign (Andrew Matthews/PA)
(Andrew Matthews/PA)

Figures released on Friday showed NHS 111 had its busiest week ever in the week ending January 1, with 457,000 patients calling the helpline. The number of hospital beds which had to be closed was double that of the previous year owing to levels of norovirus.

Throughout December, A&E departments had to shut their doors to new patients more than 140 times - a 63% rise on the 88 recorded the previous year.

NHS guidance says "A&E diverts" like this should only happen as a last resort and are put in place when departments cannot cope with any more patients.

Last week, it also emerged that two patients died on trolleys in Worcestershire Royal Hospital's A&E department during a period described as extremely busy by the hospital.

Why is the Red Cross involved?

The Red Cross has a history of helping the NHS in times of need, for instance by transporting patients home from hospital.

But on Friday it warned of a "humanitarian crisis" in the NHS, saying there had been a marked increase in demand for its service and it was working in as many as 20 A&E departments.

Writing in The Times, Mike Adamson, the charity's chief executive, said the phrase was justified by the scale of the "threat" posed to the nation's health and wellbeing.

He said: "We see people discharged from hospital to chaotic situations at home, falling and not being found for hours, not being washed because there is no carer to help them.

"These are people in crisis and in recent weeks we have started talking about this as a humanitarian crisis. We don't say this lightly and we have a duty to say it."

What do doctors say?

a Stethoscope around a doctors neck (Andrew Matthews/PA)
(Andrew Matthews/PA)

The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has warned A&E departments are unsafe.

Its audit of 60 A&E departments showed 77.62% of patients were seen within the four-hour target last week, which is the worst performance in the two years the audit has run.

It said these figures show an "emergency medicine system in crisis".

Dr Mark Holland, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, has also warned of a large-scale crisis. He has said: "We have got to the point where the efforts of staff to prop up the system are no longer enough to keep the system afloat.

"We are asking NHS staff to provide a world-class service, but with third world levels of staffing and third world levels of beds."

What does the Government say?

jeremy hunt (Ben Birchall/PA)
(Ben Birchall/PA)

Both Prime Minister Theresa May and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt have rejected the Red Cross claims.

While May acknowledged there are "huge pressures" on the health service, she said the Government had provided the funding requested last year, telling Sky News on Sunday that funding is "now at record levels for the NHS".

On Monday, Hunt said there are problems in "one or two" hospitals and that hospitals are actually performing "slightly better" than this time last year.

He also said many people at top of NHS bodies reject the claim that there is a general crisis in A&E departments.