Overcrowding at Vancouver General Hospital's emergency room hit a critical point in March. ((CBC))

Doctors say a recent fire safety violation points to the need to address the causes behind a potentially dangerous overcrowding problem in Vancouver General Hospital's emergency room.

A city fire inspector issued VGH a notice in March saying too many stretchers were crowding the hallways and creating a fire hazard. 

One emergency room doctor said the problem could threaten lives.

"The department is so crowded that in the event of an emergency such as a fire, there's not proper egress space available for patients to leave the department," said Dr. Kevin Clark.

The overcrowding is due to a shortage of doctors on staff and that fact that not enough beds being freed up elsewhere in the hospital, according to another physician.

"The first solution is to share the overcrowding equally throughout the hospital," said Dr. Jill McEwen. "Rather than leave 50 patients in the emergency department, if two of those patients went to each ward … that would immediately eliminate the access block in the emergency."

But the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority said it has eliminated the fire hazard in the VGH emergency room by moving extra stretchers into an area near the vending machines as well as the waiting room.

Spokesperson Anna Marie D'Angelo also said the hospital could always use more doctors, but the authority has to work within the restrictions of its agreement with the B.C. health ministry.

"The ratio of doctors is … established in that agreement and it's something that the provincial government would need to change for it to change at VGH," said D'Angelo.

With files from the CBC's Stephanie Mercier and Kirk Williams