EXTRA beds have been opened in hospitals across Gwent to help deal with recent increases in demand, as familiar NHS winter pressures bite.

A "small number" of non-urgent operations have been cancelled during the past week too, as the Royal Gwent and Nevill Hall Hospitals have been under "extreme pressure".

But, in common with other sites in Wales, having been at the highest level - four (red, extreme pressure) - on an NHS Wales scale that indicates the pressure hospitals and services are under at any given time, the Royal Gwent and Nevill Hall are now at level three (amber high, severe pressure), a small but welcome improvement for staff and patients alike.

People are being asked however, to avoid attending A&E departments unless it is absolutely necessary, and to consider other options for advice and treatment.

“Our hospitals remain busy and we have opened extra bed capacity across the health board in accordance with our winter plans to help manage the recent increase in demand for our services," said an Aneurin Bevan University Health Board spokesman.

“During the Christmas and New Year period the Royal Gwent and Nevill Hall hospitals were under extreme pressure due to an unusually high intake of very poorly people, particularly with clinically significant respiratory illnesses.

"However, thanks to the hard work and dedication of our staff, we are pleased to report that today our position is beginning to improve.

“We have taken the decision to cancel a small number of elective operations over the past week, but all clinically urgent surgery has continued as normal.

“We understand the impact for patients of cancelling their planned operations at short notice and we are keeping the situation under daily review. Over the past 24 hours we have returned to delivering our planned levels of elective surgery.

"We would particularly like to thank patients for their co-operation and understanding during this time.

“To try and avoid short notice cancellations, our winter plan has included a reduction in the number of non-urgent operations booked between Christmas and the New Year and in early January. This was in anticipation that our hospitals would be very busy with emergency admissions at these times.

“We are continuing to ask the public to only consider visiting our emergency departments if they really need to.

"We would advise that people should consider calling NHS Direct Wales (0845 46 47) for advice, visit their local pharmacist, call our GP Out of Hours service, or attend our minor injury units at Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr in Ystrad Mynach, or Ysbyty Aneurin Bevan in Ebbw Vale, where waiting times will be much shorter for the treatment of minor injuries.

“The safety of our patients remains our priority - they will continue to receive a high standard of care should they need to access our services.”

For more information on how to Choose Well when you need care, visit: http://www.wales.nhs.uk/sitesplus/866/choosewell