HOSPITALS are being forced to cancel operations and routine appointments as they battle unprecedented pressures.

Sussex’s three main hospital trusts are all under major strain with almost every bed filled and a surge in demand from patients.

There are also reports of long waits and delays in accident and emergency departments.

Frontline workers are expecting the pressure to continue over the coming days and weeks.

NHS England has told hospitals to postpone non-urgent operations until the end of the month if necessary to help free up space.

Unions are calling for more investment in the NHS to help it cope.

Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust said it was looking at rescheduling appointments on a case by case basis.

Medical director Rob Haigh said: “Our hospitals have been extremely busy over Christmas and New Year and our staff are working really hard to care for all our patients.

“We know some patients have faced longer waiting times in A&E than we would like and are doing everything possible to mitigate this.

“We have also seen an increase in the severity of illness in our emergency admissions, requiring more prolonged treatment.

“As a result, we expect to have to reschedule some operations over the coming weeks and I would like to apologise to those patients in advance.

“We will be contacting anyone affected by phone to make new arrangements, so if you don’t hear from us, please do come in for your treatment as planned.

“People can really help us by only coming to our A&E departments if they have a real emergency.”

British Medical Association representative body chairwoman Anthea Mowat said: “The NHS is in the grips of another winter crisis as patients face long delays in care, operations are cancelled and staff find themselves working under extremely difficult circumstances.

“What is happening in our A&Es is symptomatic of pressures across the entire system.

“Hospitals are at capacity, GP surgeries are full and a shortage of social and community care means many patients who no longer need to be in hospital can’t be discharged as there is simply nowhere for them to go.

“Short-term fixes, however well meaning, will only get us so far.

“Each winter the pressure on the NHS worsens and politicians are not taking the long-term view needed to ensure the NHS can keep up with rising demand.

“We have to look again at NHS funding, which remains well below what other comparable European countries spend on healthcare.

A spokesman for the patient watchdog Healthwatch East Sussex said: “We recognise that hospitals across are seeing greater demand for their services over the winter period.

“They appear to be coping so far with the extra demand through their winter plans, which include a reduction in some routine surgery to increase bed space.

“Healthwatch is monitoring the impact on patients that winter pressures are bringing and we encourage the public to contact us if they have been affected.

“We have some concerns that when the public do not have access to out-of-hours GPs or pharmacies that this increases pressure on emergency services.”

East Sussex Healthcare chief executive Adrian Bull said his trust had an 11 per cent increase in A&E attendances at its hospitals in Eastbourne and St Leonards in recent weeks.

He said: “This means our two hospitals and community services are under pressure and are working at full capacity but coping with the extra demand.

“We are working closely with our partners in adult social care to support patients to stay at home where appropriate and be discharged from hospital once they are medically stable.

“Our focus remains on providing the highest quality service for our patients.”

Western Sussex Hospitals chief medical officer George Findlay said sites in Worthing and Chichester were still busy after the busiest festive period on record.

He said: “Unfortunately, to enable us to continue to provide safe, high quality care to those most in need, it is necessary for us to postpone some planned operations and clinics so we can focus on where the need is greatest.

“I would also like to thank everyone who has been helping us.

“These include those only using A&E when absolutely necessary to families helping loved ones leave hospital in a timely way to release beds.”

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said sorry to those affected.

He said: “There are real pressures, no question about it.

“This is the busiest week of the year for the NHS.

“If you are someone whose operation has been delayed, I don’t belittle that for one moment.

“Indeed I apologise to everyone who that has happened to.”