“There is a “humanitarian crisis” in NHS hospitals in England, the British Red Cross has said.
The charity said volunteers and staff had been helping patients get home from hospital and called for more government money to stabilise the situation.
It comes as a third of hospital trusts in England warned they needed action to cope with patient numbers last month.
NHS England said plans were in place to deal with winter pressure and beds were not as full as this time last year.
Figures show that 42 A&E departments ordered ambulances to divert to other hospitals last week – double the number during the same period in 2015.
Diversions can only happen when a department is under significant pressure, such as lacking the physical capacity to take more patients or having queues of ambulances outside for significantly prolonged periods, and when all existing plans to deal with a surge in patients have been unsuccessful.
Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust said on Friday that it was investigating two deaths at Worcestershire Royal Hospital’s A&E department in the last week.
The trust said patient confidentiality prevented it from discussing the deaths, but added it had “robust plans” to maintain patient safety and emergency care. A patients’ watchdog has called for an investigation.
John Freeman said his wife Pauline, who is recovering from a stroke, spent 38 hours on a trolley at the same hospital because of overcrowding.
“My wife was stuck on a trolley right next to the fire doors in a corridor and she couldn’t get any sleep because of all the trolleys banging into the fire door going in and out,” he told BBC News.
“There was probably in excess of 20 trolleys all stacked up. This is going back to the dark ages almost.”
Trusts around the country are taking to social media to urge patients to stay away from A&E, unless it is an emergency or a life threatening illness.
British Red Cross provided support to staff at the East Midlands Ambulance Service across Nottingham, Leicester, Lincoln, Kettering and Northampton on 1 January.
It also boosted existing services offering support at home to help alleviate pressure on hospitals.
Chief executive Mike Adamson said: “The British Red Cross is on the front line, responding to the humanitarian crisis in our hospital and ambulance services across the country.
“We have been called in to support the NHS and help get people home from hospital and free up much needed beds.”
“We’ve seen people sent home without clothes, some suffer falls and are not found for days, while others are not washed because there is no carer there to help them.”
The Red Cross said its volunteers are “on the front line” across the country
He said that if people do not get the care they need, “they will simply end up returning to A&E, and the cycle begins again”.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “The Red Cross being called in to help in our hospitals is just the latest staggering example of how the NHS is now being pushed to breaking point.
“For the Red Cross to brand the situation a ‘humanitarian crisis’ should be a badge of shame for government ministers.” He called for “urgent help” from the government.
The Royal College of Emergency Medicine said staff were under intense pressure, while the Society for Acute Medicine warned this month could be the worst January the NHS has ever faced.
Dr Taj Hassan, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said every hospital in Essex has been on black alert and emergency departments are “working at and beyond their capabilities”.
He added: “The emergency care system is on its knees, despite the huge efforts of staff who are struggling to cope with the intense demands being put upon them. This cannot be allowed to continue.
“The scale of the crisis affecting emergency care systems has reached new heights, as we predicted, mainly due to a lack of investment in both social and acute health care beds, as well as emergency department staffing.”
Dr Mark Holland, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, told BBC Breakfast that the term “humanitarian crisis” was strong, but “not a million miles away from the truth”.
He added: “We have been predicting that we would face a winter from hell. I think that time has arrived.”
A spokesman for NHS England said plans remained in place to deal with additional demands during the winter period and asked the public to “play their part” by using local pharmacies and NHS 111 for medical advice.
BBC reporter Dan Johnson said one press officer from the organisation called the claims by the Red Cross “ridiculous”.
He added: “The Department of Health also said it is putting in billions more to try and make the system work.”