St George’s Hospital has admitted that it closed its doors to ambulances this week - because it wanted to meet government targets.

The Tooting hospital was forced to turn patients away on Monday because of a lack of space after it saw a 14 per cent surge in demand for hospital beds over the weekend.

Up to 20 patients needed urgent admission and ended up in A&E hospital beds.

Subsequent patients were diverted to nearby Mayday in Croydon, Kingston Hospital and St Helier in Sutton – all of which reported serious pressure on their own capacity.

However a spokesman for St George’s admitted this week that its patients were turned away because bosses were worried Government targets wouldn’t be met.

A spokesman for the hospital said: “They want to beat the (four-hour) waiting times. They are concerned they won’t meet their four-hour target set by the Government.

“It is not down to an individual virus, more an accumulation of other things. There was sustained pressure over the whole weekend. People needed admission for various reasons.”

Campaign group Health Emergency is warning that cuts in bed capacity have left hospitals ill-equipped to cope with the winter pressures of flu, accidents and respiratory complaints and that many hospitals have been forced to close wards to cope with the winter vomiting bug – Norovirus.

Geoff Martin, Health Emergency head of campaigns, said: “We are calling on the Government to make cash available to open additional beds and draft in extra staff to cope with the growing crisis on the wards.

“If they can find billions to bail out the banks and the City, they should be able to find the extra money needed to get the NHS through the next few months without widespread black alerts.

“If the pattern that’s emerging isn’t a clear warning signal to the Government that the NHS is facing its most serious winter crisis in a decade then I don’t know what is.”

In a statement released earlier St George's said: "St George's A&E department is experiencing unprecedented levels of attendance at this time. Patients should only attend A&E for urgent medical attention. Patients with minor health complaints are asked to visit their GP or community pharmacy.

“The Tooting walk-in centre at St George's is available for non-urgent attention and the public can contact NHS direct for convenient information and advice on 0845 4647."