NHS trusts have been told to put emergency measures in place to defer all non urgent in-patient elective care ‘until mid-January’.
NHS England says the move will ‘ensure beds and staff are available for the sickest patients’.
Bosses said this was ‘usual practice in previous years’ and by acting early trusts can ‘avoid last minute cancellations that can be costly and inconvenient for patients’.
It also recommended that routine follow-up clinics were converted into ‘hot clinics’ providing specialist care to patients referred by GPs to take pressure off of A&E units, for example, for respiratory conditions which peak in winter.
It also said that urgent GP appointments will be planned available over the holiday period.
National medical director Sir Bruce Keogh said: ‘NHS staff are working flat out to cope with seasonal pressures and ensure patients receive the best possible care. However, given the scale of the challenge, hospitals should be planning for the surge that comes in the New Year by freeing up beds and staff where they can to care for our sickest patients.
‘This will also reduce last minute cancellations which are unfair to patients and their families. Patients deserve as much notice as possible if their non-urgent treatment is delayed and I hope that they will bear with us during this testing time for the health service.’