Dr Tim Cooksley, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said “urgent action” is required to bring the NHS back from the brink.
“There has never been a greater recognition amongst all staff that our current situation is worse than it has ever been,” Dr Tim Cooksley told Sky News.
“And I know that people watching this will say, ‘well every winter you have doctors on that say that this winter is terrible, that it’s normal winter pressures’.
“But there is a complete acceptance from all colleagues now that this is different from all previous winters - and we need urgent action now.”
He added: “This situation is much worse than we experienced under the Covid pandemic at its peak.
“And so we need to think carefully about how we can manage this and I think we need some urgent actions.”
It comes after more than a dozen NHS trusts and ambulance services declared critical incidents over the festive period, with officials citing rising flu cases and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic among the reasons for the pressure on the health service.
Critical incidents mean hospitals cannot function as usual due to extraordinary pressure. Some trusts have told patients to avoid emergency departments unless their condition is life-threatening.
His comments come after the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, Dr Adrian Boyle, said on New Year’s Day that between 300 and 500 people are dying each week because of delays in emergency care.
While Dr Ian Higginson, the vice-president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said he was in “no doubt” there was a risk to patients as he warned some A&E departments are in a “complete state of crisis”.
Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, emergency consultant Dr Higginson said on Sunday: “Emergency departments are in a really difficult and in some cases a complete state of crisis right now... and in many cases we are unable to provide care at the standard we would like.”
“There’s no doubt that if you can’t get an ambulance to someone who’s having a heart attack or a stroke, that some of those patients are going to come to harm and may die as a result of that.
“And there’s no doubt that when we’re trying to treat frail, elderly vulnerable patients on trolleys in corridors that we can’t do the best thing by them.”
Matthew Taylor, head of the NHS Confederation, told Sky News on Monday: “I speak to NHS leaders every day and a lot of them, if not most of them, say this is the toughest winter they’ve ever dealt with. We cannot go on like this.”
In November, more than 37,000 people waited more than 12 hours in A&E for a decision to be admitted to a hospital department, according to data from NHS England. This was more than triple the equivalent figure for November 2021, when an estimated 10,646 waited longer than 12 hours.
Chris Hopson from NHS England said it was evident that the NHS was “under significant pressure at the moment” which he said could result in patients waiting longer for treatment.
He told BBC Radio 5 Live he feels “deeply uncomfortable” about the level of care sometimes being provided at moments of pressure.But he said care needed to be taken “jumping to conclusions about excess mortality rates and their cause without a really full and detailed look at the evidence”.
He said a study of the evidence was “under way”, but until detailed work is conducted “it’s really difficult to say”.
Professor Phil Banfield, chair of British Medical Association (BMA) council, hit out at both the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary as he offered a stark warning about the scale of the crisis facing healthcare workers.
"The current situation in the NHS is intolerable and unsustainable, both for our patients and the hard-working staff desperately trying to keep up with incredibly high levels of demand," he said.
"The BMA has repeatedly invited the Government to sit down and talk about the pressures on our health service, but their silence is deafening.
"It is disingenuous for the Prime Minister to talk about 'backing the NHS' in his New Year message, when his own Health Secretary is failing to discuss how this crisis can be fixed."
He called on the Government to "step up and take immediate action" to solve the crisis.
The Lib Dems have called for Parliament to be recalled.
Deputy Leader and the party’s Health & Social Care spokesperson Daisy Cooper Tweeted: “ The NHS crisis is a life or death situation for huge numbers of patients. The NHS is collapsing in front of our eyes whilst the PM & Health Sec are nowhere to be seen. Parliament must be recalled &a national major incident declared to put the NHS back on a pandemic-style footing.”
Labour has blamed Government “mismanagement” for creating a sense of “jeopardy” around the health system, amid concerns about the growing pressure on the NHS and emergency departments.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, who described staff shortages as the “heart” of the crisis”, said there was a “sense of jeopardy” regarding the health service.
He told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme the country was looking at the “consequences” of “more than 12 years of Conservative mismanagement” as he pointed to lengthy waiting lists and “enormous” staff shortages.
“It’s also the situation we see now, which I think is unprecedented in the NHS, which is people no longer feel confident that emergency medicine will be there for them when they need it.”
“Indeed, the NHS seems to be actively deterring people from going to accident and emergency departments unless it’s life threatening, because they are overwhelmed.
“And I think that’s the sense of jeopardy, which is frightening so many people across the country.”
Government minister Robert Halfon acknowledged the pressures facing the health system and told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m absolutely clear that the prime minister treats this as a top priority.
“We’re increasing the NHS capacity by the equivalent of 7,000 beds, spending an extra £500 million to speed up hospital discharge and improve capacity.”
“The government is putting a lot of funding and doing everything possible,” he added.
“We know, of course, that many of these problems have been caused by the pandemic and the pressures on the NHS that we’ve seen over the past few years.”
A Department of Health spokesperson said Health Secretary Steve Barclay is being kept up to date with developments.