PATIENTS waiting for operations at the Royal Bolton Hospital could face weeks of further delays because of winter pressures on the NHS.

NHS England has urged hospitals across the country to defer planned operations and routine outpatient appointments until the end of the month.

In a drastic step to try to free up hospital staff and beds, NHS England also said the deferral of non-urgent inpatient elective care should be extended until January 31.

The Royal Bolton had already cancelled all routine inpatient operations and procedures, and routine day cases that use inpatient beds, until January 16.

Hospital bosses say that their planning has helped reduce the strain on resources ‘to a certain extent’ and that the new national guidance is being reviewed.

A spokesman for the Bolton NHS Foundation Trust said: “The Royal Bolton Hospital, in common with other hospitals, has been and continues to be very busy but our advance planning for winter has helped us to a certain extent.

“For instance we had already decided well before Christmas not to carry out inpatient non-urgent operations during the first two weeks in January which put us ahead of the game. We are reviewing the latest national guidance on managing pressures in partnership with Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group to see which recommendations would help the local situation and the best way of implementing them.

“If we do need to postpone further operations or appointments we will contact affected patients directly.

“We fully understand that this can be upsetting and disruptive for individuals and their families and would like to assure them that such decisions are only taken if necessary to care for the sickest patients and in the interests of patient safety over all. We are working with our GP and social services partners to manage these intense pressures, and our staff are doing a sterling job.

“However members of the public can help too, by only using A and E for serious illness or accidents and seeking advice or treatment from alternatives such as their family doctor, a pharmacist or NHS Choices.”

NHS England has estimated the measures could lead to up to 55,000 deferred operations, although cancer operations and time-critical procedures should go ahead as planned.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt apologised to patients who have had operations delayed. He said: “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.”