Public hospitals are on the verge of a crisis, with wards still being swamped by patients as a result of the cold weather. Frontline doctors warn that the serious overcrowding - the worst in recent years - has exposed the inability of the hospital system to cope with the ageing population or a possible flu pandemic. They say that with extra beds crowding some busy medical wards, resuscitation of patients has been delayed in some cases because medical staff have trouble getting the machines to patients' beds. A Hospital Authority spokesman said the system had been dealing with a rush of admissions to medical and geriatric wards because of the cold weather. The average occupancy rate of most medical wards was over 100 per cent. It is more than 110 per cent in the five busiest hospitals - Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital, Queen Elizabeth, Princess Margaret, North District and Prince of Wales. Many patients are suffering from pneumonia, asthma or heart disease. The chief executive of the Hospital Authority's New Territories East cluster, Fung Hong, said the situation was the 'worst in recent years', with hospitals working beyond capacity since the Lunar New Year. He said the Prince of Wales Hospital had capped the number of patients admitted through its accident and emergency department at 50 a day. Non-urgent operations and investigations had been suspended to make way for serious cases. As the hospital's internal medicine department has 270 beds, it means nearly a fifth of its patients have to be discharged every day to make space for new admissions. 'I won't say it is a crisis, but a near-crisis,' Dr Fung said. 'We are trying every means to refer less serious patients to convalescent hospitals or back to the community.' Patients from the internal medicine department are being transferred to other areas such as surgical and orthopaedic wards. 'Everyone is busy but our staff are all very committed and the morale is good,' he added. The president of the Public Doctors' Association, Duncan Ho Hung-kwong, warned that weaknesses in the public health system were being exposed amid an ageing population. 'Quality of care is being compromised in such a congested environment,' he said. 'Doctors and nurses are having difficulties bringing resuscitation equipment to patients as there are so many extra beds in the wards. It is worrying that the system does not have a safety margin.' Dr Ho said the government needed to have a better idea of the number of beds needed for the ageing population. The chief executive of the authority's Kowloon East cluster, Luk Che-chung, said the occupancy rate at United Christian Hospital was well over 100 per cent and some medical staff had had to defer leave or work overtime. Dr Luk said extra beds were crowding out wards and lining corridors. 'We are fast-tracking all procedures in order to relieve the burden at the emergency department, and we have put more senior doctors there to screen patients for admission,' he said.