Hundreds of thousands of patients are languishing for more than 24 hours in A&E before being seen, according to figures by the care watchdog.
The most seriously ill are lying on trolleys waiting for a bed on a ward while others are forced to wait just to be assessed and sent home.
A survey of almost 40,000 patients by the Care Quality Commission found that a third spent at least four hours in A&E – the Government's target.
If the Care Quality Commission's findings are representative of the 22 million patient visits in a year, as many as 650,000 people will wait at least 24 hours in A&E (file picture)
Of that third, 6 per cent were there for at least 12 hours and 3 per cent for 24 hours or more.
If the CQC's findings are representative of the 22 million patient visits to casualty in a year, as many as 650,000 will wait at least 24 hours.
The watchdog's findings come as emergency wards across England are facing unprecedented pressures, with many urging the public to stay away unless they are very seriously ill.
Several hospitals are on black alert in which operations are cancelled to free-up beds and ambulances are diverted elsewhere.
Andy Burnham MP, Labour's Shadow Health Secretary, said: 'These figures will alarm people about what lies ahead in the coming months.
'A&Es were telling patients to stay away before winter even started. Under this government, over a million patients every year wait too long to be seen in England's A&Es. Hospitals have missed the waiting time target for 71 weeks in a row as more and more patients wait hours on end.
'This should have been ringing alarm bells in the Department of Health months ago, but the truth is ministers failed to listen and act on concerns.'
The figures also show that 13 per cent of patients waited at least half an hour for pain relief after asking a nurse for help. Of that, 8 per cent were given no help at all.
Some 11 per cent of patients who arrived by an ambulance had to wait outside for at least 30 minutes because the casualty department was too busy.
This included 5 per cent who were stuck in the vehicle for an hour – and 2 per cent for two or more hours. The CQC has also named and shamed the ten worst A&E units based on the responses of patients. They include Medway, in Kent, where a damning report by the watchdog last week revealed how patients were spending 35 hours on trolleys.
The survey is undertaken every two years and the results are broadly similar to 2012, although some questions differed slightly. Some 80 per cent rated their overall experience in A&E a score of 7 out of 10 or higher, a rise from 76 per cent two years ago.
And 77 per cent said doctors and nurses listened to them, while 72 per cent said staff had enough time for them. Professor Sir Mike Richards, chief inspector of hospitals at the CQC, said the overall results of the survey were 'encouraging'.
'However, we do see significant variations between trusts,' he said. 'This highlights the need for all trusts to review their own results and to take action where necessary.'
Each of the 142 A&E units was rated based on patients' responses and the CQC compiled a league table. The bottom ten included Tameside in Greater Manchester, Medway in Gillingham, Kent, and Barking, Havering and Redbridge in East London.
At the other end of the scale were Dorset County, the Royal Surrey and Salford Royal in Greater Manchester.
Each of the 142 A&E units was rated based on patients' responses. The bottom ten included Tameside on Greater Manchester (pictured)
Patient numbers in A&E have risen by 50 per cent in a decade partly due to an aging population and a lack of GP availability. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt revealed last week how he had taken one of his children to casualty because he did not want to wait to see a family doctor.
Joyce Robins, of Patient Concern, said: 'Its horrendous. The problem is that people cannot see their GP, and this is just rebounding up the system. But it's an untenable situation and there just doesn't seem to be a solution.'
Dr Katherine Rake of Healthwatch England, which campaigns for patient rights, said there is 'clearly room for improvement'.
NHS employees file more than 33 complaints about staffing shortages every day, figures reveal. There were 4,000 gripes in the past six months – plus 1,343 about shifts being filled by underqualified staff and 196 about employees being overworked, according to Freedom of Information requests by 5 News.