There are no plans to suspend operations at Hertfordshire hospitals to cope with the additional pressures of winter, councillors have heard.

Last year national advice from the NHS was for hospitals to suspend elective surgery – which has caused a backlog in west Hertfordshire.

But this year – the county council’s health scrutiny committee has been told – the same advice has not been given.

East and North Herts CCG chief executive Beverley Flowers is co-ordinating winter planning for the Hertfordshire and West Essex Strategic Transformation Partnership.

She told the committee: “Last winter there was a national message around the cancellation of elective surgeries.

“This year the message has been not to cancel, but to ensure adequate planning – to make sure people continue to be treated over the winter period.

“As yet, we have not received the the same national message as last year.”

Ms Flowers said there had not been an impact, last year, on hospitals run by the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust because it has a separate surgical centre for elective procedures.

However current waiting lists at Watford General Hospital – run by West Hertfordshire NHS Trust – have been put down to the cancellation of elective surgery during the winter period.

Ms Flowers told the committee that this winter health professionals would have live access to data to identify pressure points in the system.  And she said there would be better communication between health organisations.

Patients, she said, will be encouraged to see their pharmacists or to use the ‘111’ service, which will be well-staffed and include trained mental health professionals too.

And they will have greater access to GP services, following the roll-out of the extended access scheme.

She said funding would be used for social services to improve access to ‘discharge to assess’, which can help patients to eave hospital more quickly.

And ‘load levelling’ would be used to take ambulance patients to the hospitals where they could be treated quickest – even if that wasn’t the closest.

Meanwhile as part of winter planning at Watford General some orthopaedic and pre-operative assessment clinics are to move to St Albans City Hospital.

This is, in part, to make way for a new assessment unit for the emergency department, which will be used by around 300 people a month from January (2019).

And West Hertfordshire Hospitals Trust – which runs the hospital – says it will also be taking a “robust approach” to discharge processes – with a team “rapidly” deciding on the safest route home, as soon as patients are medically fit.

The trust will, it says, continue with planned ‘elective’ procedures throughout the winter period.

And – following a trial – a greater number of more medically complex orthopaedic patients are to be treated at St Albans City Hospital.