British hospitals have been cancelling non-urgent procedures and rushing to find space for Covid-19 patients as cases continue to surge.
Another 41,385 confirmed cases were recorded across the UK on Monday, despite tough new restrictions to curb a fast-spreading new variant of the coronavirus.
It was the first time the daily figure reported there surpassed 40,000, although more tests are being performed now than earlier in the pandemic.
Emergency physician Dr Adrian Boyle, from Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, said ambulances “keep coming in”.
“You have a sense of helplessness when you can’t offload it because your emergency department is full,” Dr Boyle said.
British authorities are blaming a new variant of the coronavirus for soaring infection rates in London and south-east England.
They say the new version is more easily transmitted than the original, but emphasise there is no evidence that it makes people more ill.
In response, authorities have put part of England under “Tier 4” rules, requiring non-essential shops to close, barring indoor socialising and permitting pubs and restaurants to operate only for takeaways.
About 24 million people live in the area affected by the restrictions.
Even so, hospital admissions for Covid-19 in south-east England are approaching or exceeding the levels seen at the first peak of the outbreak.
For the UK as a whole, government figures show 21,286 people were admitted to hospital on December 22, the most recent day for which data is available.
That is only slightly below the record high of 21,683.