ROUTINE operations have been cancelled at Dorset County Hospital amid chronic winter pressures on the health service.

DCH said non-urgent cases were having to be put back to help ease pressure and help medics concentrate on emergency care – it is currently dealing with a "high level of trauma and emergency cases".

The Dorchester hospital declared it was on Operational Pressures Escalation Level (Opel) 3 – close to a black alert or major incident.

It comes after every hospital in the country was ordered to cancel all non-urgent surgery until at least February.

NHS England ordered the unprecedented move to try and stabilise the service and concentrate on emergency care.

Director of acute care Professor Keith Willett denied it was a 'crisis' and that NHS England was only responding to concerns amid an increase in flu cases as well as predicted cold weather.

A spokesman for Dorset County Hospital said: “The hospital is extremely busy at the moment and regrettably we have had to postpone some planned operations due to high levels of trauma and emergency cases.

“We will contact any patients affected with as much notice as possible so anyone who has not been contacted should assume their appointment is going ahead and come in as planned.

“We will keep people updated on the situation as it develops. Please regularly check our website and social media pages for the latest information or call the number on your appointment letter.”

The move comes after the ambulance service which covers Dorset urged people ahead of the new year to only ring 999 in an emergency.

South Western Ambulance said it was facing unprecedented volumes of calls and may be unable to respond immediately to more minor incidents.

Between Christmas and new year the service has seen around 3,000 calls per day.

A spokesman said: “999 should only be called for conditions including cardiac arrest, choking, severe chest pain, suspected stroke, serious blood loss and unconsciousness. This will help us reach those in serious need as soon as possible.

“This new year we are urging people to think before they dial 999. Please only call if there is a medical emergency. Please look after yourselves and others to avoid conditions escalating to an emergency.

"Please help us to help you. The whole NHS system is under extreme pressure, so please call the correct service for your needs and please only call if you really need to."