Officials say extreme seasonal pressure on Britain’s hospital system means many non-urgent procedures must be put off for weeks.
National Health Service England officials are telling hospitals to delay some procedures to free up staff and beds to deal with emergency patients.
The restrictions are set to last until at least the end of January and are predicted to affect around 55,000 operations.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Wednesday apologized for the problems.
“It is absolutely not what I want,” he told Sky News. He said there is no question the hospitals are facing real pressures at the moment.
NHS England director Bruce Keogh says the pressures may increase because of “early signs” of spreading flu.
Many hospitals are operating at or near full capacity, with reports of long waits for treatment in emergency rooms.