Planned operations at King George and Queen’s hospitals might have to be cancelled next month, if bed numbers are not increased.

That is what Matthew Trainer, chief executive of Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT) told the joint health overview and scrutiny committee on Tuesday, December 14.

He said the trust is struggling to maintain bed capacity in the face of Covid-19 and winter pressures due to a lack of staff, telling councillors from the three service areas that patients not suffering from heart problems or a serious bleed are "facing long waits" for emergency care.

He said 43 more beds could be opened up “if we can staff them” but that a stroke rehab ward has lost “about a quarter” of its capacity and there is also pressure from elderly patients who can’t be cared for elsewhere.

Redbridge councillor Neil Zammett, a retired hospital manager, warned the hospitals are already “on a knife edge” ahead of the winter’s peak demand and urged the trust to “get more beds open”.

Mr Trainer said the pressure Covid will bring is a “huge variable” but the hospitals are not cancelling operations at this point.

He added: “Partly because with surgery if we don’t treat people they will turn up at A&E anyway, because some are quite unwell.

“We haven’t yet decided ‘let’s crash surgery and put everything in the emergency pathway’.

“If it does come to that in January, we do have plans in place and will start to stand down planned surgery, and keep everyone safe in that context.”

Data released on Thursday, December 9, revealed critical care capacity at the facilities in Romford and Goodmayes has reached 100 per cent.

People who are not fully-vaccinated account for 30 per cent of intensive care beds at the hospital, according to a BHRUT report before the committee.

This is affecting the hospital's ability to carry out urgent heart operations and transplants.

Launched in November, patients calling 111 or 999 can now have a remote consultation with an emergency department doctor, to reduce pressure on ambulances and hospitals.