Hospital patients could face disruption this month – with many pre-planned operations and routine appointments to be delayed.
NHS England has told hospitals to delay operations and procedures until January 31 because of winter pressures.
It comes as part of a bid to try to free up hospital staff and beds, with the deferral of non-urgent inpatient elective care also extended until the end of the month.
Hospitals in the North East are among those affected.
Dr Stuart Findlay, co-chairman of the North East and Cumbria Urgent and Emergency Care Network – which represents all NHS organisations – said: “Each hospital is different so they can choose how they do this and our region’s hospital trusts will try to minimise disruption to those patients with non urgent planned operations when making their decisions.
“It’s very important that patients with planned operations, procedures or outpatient appointments should attend as normal unless they are specifically contacted by their hospital and asked not to.
“Only those patients contacted directly will have appointments delayed and these will be rearranged. Cancer diagnosis and treatment appointments will not be delayed.
“Any patients who do have a hospital appointment delayed, and feel their condition is getting worse, should contact their GP in the first instance for support.”
Officials have estimated that up to 55,000 operations could be deferred across the country.
NHS England has also announced that sanctions for mixed-sex accommodation will be temporarily eased, with current NHS rules stating men and women should be treated on different wards.