A growing crisis in hospital safety is revealed in official figures showing a doubling in the number of legal warnings issued by NHS watchdogs.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) launched 135 “enforcement actions” against hospitals in 2016/17 - a rise from 58 interventions the year before, the records show.
Overcrowding and staff shortages on health service wards were common themes in the notices, which are issued when care is so poor that it falls below legal requirements.
The findings come ahead of CQC’s annual State of Care report, which is expected to raise concerns about the capacity of NHS trusts to cope with rising pressures.
Prof Ted Baker, chief inspector of hospitals, said the number of patients trapped in hospital, for lack of care, meant many would suffer muscle wastage, condemning too many to lives of frailty.
“Acute hospitals should not be places that people stay long-term just because the rest of the system can't manage them,” he said.
“These patients are not getting the care they need and that can affect their long term chances of recovery very significantly.”
“If you put a frail elderly person in an acute hospital bed and they stay there too long they lose their ability to lead an independent life. They lose their muscle strength they often lose their bone strength and they often become much frailer,” he added.
Recent actions include a warning notice to Royal Cornwall Hospitals trust after inspectors found patients dying and left to go blind after long waits for treatment.
Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth was condemned for putting patients at "unacceptable risk" by leaving 16 ambulances to queue outside. And Weston Area Health trust in Somerset has closed its A&E at night, after inspectors warned of dangerous levels of crowding.
Tuesday’s report is expected to highlight high bed occupancy levels in NHS hospitals, which are approaching 90 per cent even before winter is underway.
Prof Baker said hospitals were under “tremendous pressure” long before winter sets in, with far too many patients delayed in hospital for want of the right care in the community
He also highlighted widespread shortages of nurses and doctors.
“Most hospitals we go to have difficulties recruiting all the nurses they need - that's also true of doctors,” he said.
“You go to any trust and they will say workforce is their primary concern,” he added.
Prof Baker, who took up post as chief inspector of hospitals in August, said staff were dedicated, but under enormous strain.
“The thing that holds this all together when we are under pressure is the dedication and commitment of frontline staff - the doctors the nurses the paramedics they make a real difference,” he said.
On Tuesday, the watchdog will examine the state of care across hospitals, care homes, home care, and GPs, examining aspects such as safety, quality and leadership.
Last year the regulator warned that social care was approaching a “tipping point” with David Behan, watchdog chief executive saying it was the worst crisis he had seen in almost 40 years.
Simon Stevens, head of the NHS last month ordered hospitals to empty thousands of beds, amid fears that many could struggle to cope with a rise in pressures.
Health officials are fearful of what will happen if patterns seen in Australia - which has just battled the worst flu season for almost two decades - are replicated here.
Hospitals have been urged to empty up to 3,000 beds by the end of this month, in a bid to ensure that wards are able to cope with spikes in demand this winter.
Overall, 40 per cent of hospitals were classed as inadequate or requires improvement in 2016/17, CQC’s latest annual report shows.
Every provider is given an overall rating of outstanding, good, requires improvement or inadequate. At a board meeting in July, the watchdog said 53 per cent of all re-inspections of those deemed to require improvement had improved, while 47 per cent had worsened or kept the same rating.