Warning bells for the NHS are ringing again after the latest performance data showed the highest number of emergency admissions since records began and more patients than ever before waiting more than four hours for treatment.

According to NHS data, there were 526,400 emergency admissions in the month, which is the highest reported since the collection began, and 3.3 percent higher than the same month last year.

Also hitting new lows, the number of patients seen within four hours in A&E slipped to 84.6 percent, compared to 85.0 percent in February 2018 and 90.0 percent in March 2017. The 95 percent standard was last met in July 2015.

More than four million patients are currently on hospital waiting lists for routine treatment, and the number waiting for more than a year has also risen.

“These are startling figures,” said Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation.

“Numerous targets have been missed, from ambulance response times for life-threatening incidents to the requirement to treat non-urgent patients in under 18 weeks.

“These are not just statistics - behind the numbers are thousands of patients who are suffering, some of them with serious consequences. We must not let this performance become the norm.”

Siva Anandaciva, chief analyst at The King’ s Fund, said patients are now facing “a never-ending winter”.

The fact that the figures are still worsening is “particularly alarming” as they represent March, “a time of year when we used to see improvements to waiting times as 'winter' pressures start to ease”.

“It is clear that despite considerable efforts from frontline staff this winter, the NHS remains far away from reaching the performance standards that were once routinely delivered.”

Dr Taj Hassan, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said that patients are “continuing to pay the price of years of under-resourcing.

“The pattern of decline has been evident for years and we, among others, have repeatedly pointed to it along with solutions to the worsening problems facing our departments and health service.

“Yet warnings have gone unheeded. This should be the final wake-up call for decision makers and minsters. Patients are getting sicker and we do not have enough staff or beds to be able to treat them in a timely manner, and with the dignity they deserve.”

The RCEM also reiterate its call for patients to “write to their MP to ensure that government rhetoric is finally turned into meaningful action.”