NHS England lifts suspension on non-urgent operations
The suspension of non-urgent operations to ease winter NHS pressures in England is to be lifted from February.
Hospitals had been advised to defer non-urgent operations until mid-January, which was then extended in a bid to free up hospital staff and beds.
Announcing the end of the suspension, an NHS emergency panel said pressures on the service had eased in January.
Hospitals should be able to plan a "return to a full elective care programme" from next month, it said.
The decision to end the suspension of non-urgent operations - which include hip or knee replacements - was taken at a meeting of the NHS's Emergency Pressures Panel (NEPP), which was set up to provide advice on winter pressure and clinical risk.
In a letter to hospital bosses, it said there were early indications that levels of flu were stabilising and that pressures have eased since December.
BBC sources have indicated that NHS leaders are not signalling that the worst of the winter is over and that they will keep the situation under review.
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On 2 January, the NEPP extended the suspension of non-urgent operations and routine outpatient appointments until 31 January in order to concentrate on emergency care.
Each year the service comes under increased pressure in the winter, largely as a result of an increase in certain illnesses over this period, such as flu.
Earlier this week, Public Health England said the fact flu rates had stabilised was a good sign.
NHS officials also welcomed the news, but warned the health service was still in the middle of a very difficult winter.