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Jeremy Hunt apologises to patients whose operations are cancelled

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has apologised to patients who will see operations and hospital apponitments cancelled this month.

His comments come after NHS England yesterday told hospitals to extend a freeze on non-urgent care until 31 January.

Following the denial by NHS England’s acute care lead this morning that trusts were in a ‘crisis’, Mr Hunt told Sky News that there was ‘no question’ that there were ‘real pressures’ on the NHS amid the ‘busiest week of the year’.

But he added: ‘What is different this year compared to last year is that last year we had a lot of operations cancelled at the last minute, a lot of people were called up the day before their operation and told, “I’m sorry, it can’t go ahead”.

‘And we recognise that it is better, if you are unfortunately going to have to cancel or postpone some operations, to do it in a planned way, and that’s why this year this independent panel has decided to take this decision and that, I think, in the end, is better for people.

‘Although if you are someone whose operation has been delayed I don’t belittle that for one moment and indeed I apologise to everyone who that has happened to.’

Mr Hunt added that ‘heroic’ NHS staff were working ‘beyond the call of duty’.

Speaking on Radio 4 this morning, NHS England director of acute care Professor Keith Willett suggested the current urgent care situation was not a crisis because NHS England has a plan to deal with it.

GP leaders told Pulse the measures taken by NHS England were ‘a joke’ which would ‘just produce more workload’ for GPs.

This comes as Public Health England has warned of a rapid rise in flu cases and Northern Irish GP out-of-hours services have buckled under the pressures of winter ailments.