LONDON (AP) -- Overcrowding in U.K. hospital emergency rooms has become a "humanitarian crisis," the British Red Cross has said, urging the government to spend more on social care for the sick and elderly.
The charity said it has dispatched volunteers in several areas of the country to help patients go home and free up hospital beds. It claims cuts to social-care funding by the Conservative government mean some patients can't be discharged because there is no support available, putting pressure on hospitals.
"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," said British Red Cross chief executive Mike Adamson.
"If people don't receive the care they need and deserve, they will simply end up returning to A&E (accident and emergency), and the cycle begins again."
Government supporters and health service managers accused the Red Cross of exaggerating the scale of the problem.
The often overstretched National Health Service generally sees a surge in demand during the cold winter months, and NHS England, which manages care in England, said Saturday that "plans remain in place to deal with additional demands."
The state-funded service, which provides free care to all Britons, is a source of national pride. It is also a political punching bag, with politicians, patients and health care workers trading allegations of underfunding and mismanagement.