PATIENTS had to be turned away as Darent Valley Hospital temporarily closed for the first time in its history.

For six-and-a-half hours the hospital stopped GPs and ambulance crews from referring or dropping off patients after it reached full capacity.

All 463 beds were taken between 5am to 11.30am on Thursday (January 3), but children and those visiting A&E on foot were still seen.

The extreme measure has been blamed on the healthcare debacle in south London.

Mark Fittock, a director of patient watchdog Kent LINk, said Darent Valley has become a "pinch point" since Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup closed its A&E in 2010.

He told News Shopper: "Services are generally being pushed from south east London out to north Kent.

"There is a severe lack of hospitals now. It’s a concern to the general public.

"Unless people actually flag it up, it will keep happening."

A Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust spokesman said the closure of the hospital was due to a surge in patients over the busy Christmas and New Year period, particularly elderly people with respiratory problems.

However, Mr Fittock, who lives in Swanley, believes this is not an acceptable excuse.

He said: "Christmas comes around every year, in terms of staff and beds they should be able to plan ahead and deal with it. The hospital’s never shut before.

"Where’s the nearest hospital? It’s a long way for anyone else to go."

Ambulance crews had the choice of Medway Maritime Hospital in Gillingham, Maidstone Hospital, and Tunbridge Wells Hospital.

Dr David Woodhead, clinical accountable officer for Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley Clinical Commissioning Group, said: "This is the busiest time of year for the NHS and Darent Valley Hospital reached its full capacity.

"The hospital therefore had to close for a short time until beds became available.

"Throughout the short closure we liaised closely with all our partners at other hospitals in the region, the ambulance service, Kent County Council and GP surgeries to manage the current demand effectively."