An NHS Trust has asked people to review their approach to hospital visits after it was forced to cancel non-urgent planned surgery at one of its sites.

The West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, which is responsible for running St Albans City Hospital, announced that all non-urgent planned surgery at Watford General Hospital is cancelled until the end of January.

Some non-urgent outpatient appointments have also been postponed as it attempts to cope with increasing winter pressures.

The trust reiterated its suggestion that people consider calling 111 for advice before going to A&E, use the minor injuries unit at St Albans or the urgent treatment centre at Hemel Hempstead, or visit their pharmacy or GP.

It has appealed to the public to help it overcome these pressures over the next few weeks by reaffirming that A&E should only be used in critical situations.

In a statement, it said: “A&E is for patients requiring emergency care for serious and life-threatening conditions.

“Please use the service carefully so it can best support those who need it most – for example, people with serious injuries, chest pain or significant blood loss.

“We can all help by not over-burdening the service and using it only when we need to.”

Every patient affected by the outpatient and surgery cancellations were informed in advance and offered an alternative appointment, it said.

It added that, when it comes to outpatient and surgery appointments, unless told otherwise, one should assume that they are going ahead.

Health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt said that delaying operations across the country is “absolutely not what I want” as he apologised to those who had suffered as a result of the measures.

“There are real pressures, no question about it,” he told Sky News.

“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.”