Some are struggling to keep their departments open due to a dearth of middle grade emergency doctors, who fill the gap between junior doctors and consultants.
Last week managers at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup, Kent, said they would be closing its A&E in November for the winter because of a lack of such doctors.
They said they could not risk being unable to cope with the expected surge in winter admissions, which could compromise patient safety.
Now a Freedom of Information request has shown the situation to be more widespread than just pockets of problems.
Thirty-four of 99 hospital trusts that responded to an FOI request by Channel 4 News, said they had experienced at least two occasions in the last year when they had been unable to find a middle grade doctor to work on call, on-site, overnight.
Casualty doctors say that changes to immigration rules brought in by the last government have made it much more difficult for medics from countries like India and Pakistan to work in Britain.
Changes to GPs’ contracts, which have allowed them to pay others to provide out-of-hours cover rather than do it themselves, have also resulted in more young doctors opting for a career in general practice, at the expense of other avenues like emergency medicine.
One emergency doctor told the channel: “Why do this when you can go and be a GP, earn lots of money and not have to work anti-social hours?”
Of the 34 trusts who admitted to staffing problems, half said they were advertising all the time to recruit for empty posts.
The lack of middle grades has caused many trusts to make greater demands of junior doctors and consultants to ensure adequate staffing levels.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “The number of doctors choosing to specialise in A&E is rising. We are working closely with the UK Border Agency on their visa procedures that affect NHS staff recruited from overseas.”