Non-urgent hospital procedures and routine appointments could be postponed until the end of the month, after NHS bosses urged health trusts to focus on "the sickest patients".
NHS England's National Emergency Pressures Panel (NEPP) yesterday recommended that hospitals defer day operations, outpatient appointments and non-urgent inpatient care to concentrate on emergency treatment.
The move, which could delay 55,000 non-urgent operations nationally, followed "sustained pressure" and overcrowding at hospitals across England over the festive period.
It comes as the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals Trust, which runs hospitals in Wakefield and Dewsbury, continues to warn of “unprecedented” demand on its emergency departments.
Trudie Davies, director of operations for hospital services at the trust, said: “We are continually risk assessing capacity to ensure that we are able to safely treat both acute and elective patients.
“Our winter plan always factors in the reduction of elective activity during this period of winter in order to ensure safety is maintained as per the recent guidance that has been
shared. Our teams are therefore able to prioritise providing care for the sickest patients.
“Our staff have worked, and are continuing to work extremely hard over this very busy period, for which we are both profoundly grateful and proud.”
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt and Prime Minister Theresa May both defended the NEPP's recommended measures, which also include staffing additional inpatient beds and placing consultants at the front door of A&E units to assess whether patients really are emergency cases.
Ms May said the NHS was "better prepared for winter than ever".
Adrian O'Malley, a branch secretary at Unison, said the NHS was "working to its absolute limit".
"Mid Yorkshire is no better or worse than anywhere else," he said. "The place is ram packed full. You can't get anymore people in it."
He claimed the postponing of non-urgent procedures happened "quite often", but was not a solution.
"For people who have been waiting for procedures and appointments, it's outrageous," he said. "This is just delaying problems for later on.
"Until the NHS is properly invested in, things like this will happen again and again. And it's going to get worse unless years and years of cuts are reversed."