The Lib Dems are warning of a “huge winter crisis” in the NHS as Hertfordshire’s health leaders sound the alarm over “extreme pressure”.

Daisy Cooper, MP for St Albans and her party’s national health spokesperson, has said the government must “wake up and take action” to solve long waiting times for ambulances and emergency care at hospitals.

Her plea follows a warning by the Hertfordshire and West Essex Integrated Care Board (ICB) that A&E departments in Watford, Stevenage and Harlow are facing pressures.

The ICB – which sets out the strategy and priorities for NHS care in Hertfordshire, Epping Forest, Harlow and Uttlesford – said the East of England Ambulance Service, GP practices and community health services are also “stretched by the number of people calling on them for help”.

Ms Cooper said: “Our overstretched local NHS services are simply collapsing under the strain of years of neglect from this Conservative government. As a result, both patients and healthcare workers will suffer.

“Like every MP, I’ve heard heartbreaking stories from my constituents about watching loved ones suffer in pain whilst waiting for an ambulance to arrive. And from joining West Herts paramedics for a shift recently I’ve seen how heartbreaking these stories are to them as well.

“I’ve been campaigning on the ambulance crisis for more than a year and have called repeatedly on the government to take action.

“However, the Government is now sleepwalking into this huge winter crisis.

“We’ve already heard horrific stories of pensioners left stranded for hours, or families watching a loved one die before a paramedic could reach them. How many more will we have to hear before this Government wakes up and takes action?

“It’s clear to me that if health secretary Steve Barclay cannot solve the winter ambulance crisis, he should resign.”

Dr Jane Halpin, chief executive at the Hertfordshire and West Essex ICB, said: “Our services are under extreme pressure, which is why it’s vital that everyone understands the urgency of the situation and what they can do to ensure that we protect essential health services for when we really need them.”

She added: “The accident and emergency departments at our hospitals only have the capacity to treat people who have serious, life-threatening or dangerous conditions.

“Ambulances should only be called in genuine emergencies.

“If you use emergency services incorrectly you are risking the lives of others and won’t get the best treatment for your illness.

“If you come to A&E in Hertfordshire with a minor condition or illness, your care will not be a priority and you will face an extremely long wait.

“You may be sent away to visit a GP or pharmacist.

“If you call 999 for an ambulance and you don’t need one, you could endanger the life of another person in desperate need of emergency care.”

The East of England Ambulance Service, which covers Hertfordshire, Essex and four other counties in the region, declared a critical incident earlier this week.

A spokesperson said: “Our staff continue to work incredibly hard in challenging circumstances, to respond to calls and incidents as quickly as possible.

“If you need to contact us because of a life-threatening condition or serious injury, then call 999.

“For everything else, we would urge you to please use 111 online, speak to your GP or use a minor injuries centre.”

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We recognise the pressures the ambulance services face, and are investing an additional £3.3 billion for both next year and the year after to rapidly improve urgent and emergency care performance to pre-pandemic levels.

“For this winter, the government has provided an extra £500 million to speed up hospital discharge and free up beds – and the NHS is creating the equivalent of at least 7,000 more general and acute beds, to help reduce waits for admission from A&E, and get ambulances swiftly back on the road.”