A senior nurse has told how she went home and sobbed after being unable to find a hospital bed for a 99-year-old patient because of the crisis facing the NHS.
The sister, who was in charge of a large trauma centre, said people were waiting more than 12 hours for beds as the unit, meant for 20 patients, was swamped with 56.
Her story underlined the scale of the problem facing the health service across the country as doctors and nurses tell of queues of ambulances, patients waiting 23 hours and people being sent home before they are ready.
Doctors have warned the Prime Minister that lives are being put at risk, while a cross party group of MPs say that the NHS is now facing "unsustainable strain".
Figures have revealed that three times the number of people (485) were left on trolleys for more than 12 hours in the last week than in the whole of January last year.
The sister, of the unnamed unit, said: "Patients were waiting more than 12 hours for beds.
"My staff were broken and distressed. By the end of the day you could see their care-worn, exhausted faces, feeling like they've failed. But really it's the Government that has failed.
"Tonight I've come home and I've sat and cried about not being able to get a 99-year-old lady off a trolley on to a bed, because we just didn't have any left.
"Our resus room (resuscitation area) built for six regularly had seven. Our waiting room didn't have enough seats for everyone."
Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nurses, said: "How long does the Government think the NHS can survive on the dedication and goodwill of staff who are at breaking point?
"We have heard from frontline nurses who want to give the best care they can for their patients but are being told to discharge patients before they are fit just to free up beds.
"It's a vicious circle with community health and social care also struggling to cope with demand."
At Colchester General Hospital, chief executive Nick Hulme has been helping to clean trolleys.
He admitted that last week the hospital did have patients being treated in corridors for "longer than we would have liked".
But he told the East Anglian Daily Times that they were still getting good care.
The Government has insisted hospitals suffer from increased pressure every winter and that there would be no cash boost for the NHS because it had already been given it the cash it had asked for.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has urged people not to turn up to A&E departments unless absolutely necessary.
The Government is under considerable pressure to increase social care funding, which would mean elderly people would be cared for adequately at home and not end up needing hospital treatment.
It had been suggested that the Treasury had planned extra funding for social care in the Autumn Statement, but Downing Street vetoed it.
A Department of Health spokesman said: "We know the NHS is facing increasing demand from an ageing population but this makes building a safer healthcare system more urgent, not less."