ACCIDENT and Emergency units are full to bursting as this winter's 'flu epidemic continues to spread at an alarming rate, with an average of 138 patients per 100,000 inhabitants.
So far, the outbreak has spread to seven of Spain's 17 self-governing regions – Asturias, Castilla y León, the Basque Country, La Rioja, Catalunya, Madrid and the Balearics – all bar the latter being in the north.
Health authorities in some areas have taken on extra staff and opened up additional beds – Madrid, for example, has brought in 267 doctors and nurses – but planned non-urgent operations have been postponed by up to three weeks.
The region says its El Tajo hospital in Aranjuez, Getafe hospital and Alcalá hospital are all struggling to cope.
Regional health minister Jesús Sánchez Martos says surgery has had to be put back to keep beds free for possible urgent 'flu cases.
Elsewhere, personnel and their unions have strongly criticised national authorities for failing to prepare sufficiently for the epidemic, which has worsened over the Christmas holidays.
The Moisès Broggi hospital in Sant Joan Despí (Barcelona province) says the situation in A&E is 'critical', overflowing with patients, no space left and not enough resources.
Two beds are having to be squashed into cubicles designed for one patient and some people are lying on beds in the corridors.
In Asturias, 95% of hospital beds are now taken up, meaning any further rise in patient numbers could be disastrous.
A healthcare union in Aragón says patients were being forced to wait up to 18 hours in A&E, whilst staff at a Bilbao hospital staged a swift protest today (Wednesday) to denounce the 'lack of solutions' to the 'continuous overcrowding' in Casualty.
Health spokesman for the socialist opposition in Galicia criticised the 'lack of preparation and foresight' on the part of the north-western region's government, and said it was 'ridiculous' how 'a minor stressful episode' like 'an ordinary winter influenza outbreak' could bring medical services to a standstill.
The Basque Country has taken on 230 extra nurses and doctors and freed up 417 beds.
In Cantabria, despite the influenza epidemic rising sharply in a very short time, regional health boss María Luisa Real insists hospitals are 'functioning normally'.
This contrasts sharply with local news reports showing that 48 patients are still waiting for beds and in one centre, the Marqués de Valdecilla hospital, those who turn up in A&E are having to wait up to 30 hours to be seen.
In Castilla-La Mancha, 100 new healthcare workers have been drafted in and 100 beds freed up, mostly concentrated in the worst-affected provinces, those of Toledo and Ciudad Real.
As yet, fortunately, the epidemic has not spread to the east coast south of Catalunya, nor to the south or south-west, but anecdotal evidence hints at A&E departments in local clinics on the Mediterranean being 'full up' with possible 'flu victims.