NHS staff have described how they are “fighting a losing battle” as the region’s hospital services creak under the strain of another winter crisis.

A series of relieving measures announced by NHS England will see thousands of pre-planned operations and routine outpatient appointments delayed until the end of the month in a bid to free up capacity and resources, although time critical procedures such as cancer operations will go ahead as planned.

Mixed wards will also return temporarily with hospital trusts able to avoid fines for placing male and female patients together.

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Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt apologised and said the measures were “absolutely not what I want”.

Hospitals advised people to stay away from A&E departments unless they had a genuine emergency. On Facebook North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust said it was experiencing unprecedented levels of demand.

It said: “Following advice from NHS England, we have taken a number of urgent steps, including cancelling all elective operations and reviewing all outpatient clinics and cancelling appointments as appropriate for a two week period.

“We apologise to all patients affected, but we must focus all of our resources on the patients who are in the most urgent need of care.”

Mark Nevison, a senior charge nurse at the regional major trauma centre, based at Middlesbrough’s James Cook University Hospital, said on Twitter: “I have never been so ashamed of the sub-standard care we are now offering due to a lack of capacity and resources.”

Dr Adrian Harrop, an A&E doctor at Scarborough Hospital, said: “I am not being given the resources to do the job properly.

“I feel like I am fighting a losing battle, I cannot do anything more.”

Meanwhile, the North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) remained at its highest alert level and said patients, where possible, should consider having a family member transport them to hospital.

A NEAS spokeswoman said: “The number of calls we are taking has reduced, but the whole system is struggling and we still have that pressure on us.”

Dr Anthea Mowat, chairwoman of the British Medical Association's representative body, said politicians were not taking the “long term view” on the NHS to ensure it kept up with rising demand and spending was well below other comparable European countries.

John Kell, head of policy at the Patients’ Association, said patients were losing out and ministers must be held responsible for the latest crisis.

Sharon Green said she was told there would be a ten hour wait at Scarborough Hospital’s A&E with her partner John, a stroke survivor who had broken his ribs. The 47-year-old patient was eventually transferred to a hospital in Hull.

Hartlepool MP Mike Hill said his son required treatment at Stockton’s North Tees Hospital on New Year’s Eve and services were “bloody busy”.

He said: “Daily we are getting more honest accounts now from professionals in the field in terms of the reality in the NHS. The service is on its knees and financially it is in the last chance saloon.

“The Government simply haven’t put in adequate resources to see the NHS through these crises and throughout the year.”

Stockton South MP Dr Paul Williams, a registered GP and member of the Health Select Committee, said: “I have been working in the health service over my break from Parliament and I am seeing the pressures the whole system is under.

“It is patient after patient after patient waiting much longer than you would like them to.

“A friend of mine who is a surgeon also told me that he has a patient with a disabling bowel condition, but because it is not cancer or an emergency he is not allowed to operate and it is being delayed and delayed.

“This is a situation of the Government’s making, it was entirely predictable we were going to have a busy winter with a higher level of demand.

“But the investment hasn’t been made, the Government in the last Budget spent more money on preparing for Brexit than it did on a cash injection for the NHS.”

Dr Stuart Findlay, co-chairman of the North East and Cumbria Urgent and Emergency Care Network, praised hard-working staff and said patients with planned operations, procedures or outpatient appointments should attend as normal unless specifically contacted by their hospital and asked not to.

Only those patients contacted directly will have appointments delayed and these will be rearranged, he added.