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David Prior, who was brought in to lead the Care Quality Commission in January after it faced criticism for failing to protect vulnerable patients, said that almost half of hospitals were now providing care which was either poor, or "not terribly" good.
He said the CQC had found 45 hospitals with problems dating back five years, and vowed that from now on regulators will take a "much clearer" approach in advising which hospitals should not be allowed to continue as they are.
Demand on NHS accident and emergency departments is "out of control" and "totally unsustainable", the head of the health and social care regulator in England has warned.
David Prior, chairman of the Care Quality Commission (CQC), said there should be widespread closures of hospital beds and investment in community care to tackle the increasing burden on emergency care.
Mr Prior said that far too many patients were arriving at hospital as emergency cases, a crisis which could be averted by earlier intervention through care in the community.
Speaking a conference hosted by health think tank the King's Fund, Mr Prior said: "If we don't start closing acute beds, the system is going to fall over.
"Emergency admissions through Accident and Emergency are out of control in large parts of the country...That is totally unsustainable."