Due to overcrowding in hospitals this winter, the government-run healthcare system in Britain has abruptly cancelled 50,000 non-emergency surgeries.

The U.K. Telegraph reported that Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS medical director, issued an order Tuesday that required every hospital in Britain to cancel all surgeries that are not urgent until at least February, resulting in the cancellation of approximately 50,000 scheduled operations.

The unprecedented order followed complaints by senior doctors that patients were being treated in “third world” conditions from overcrowding resulting from the worst winter health crisis in three decades, according to hospital chief executives.

A spike in influenza cases has left frail patients to endure 12-hour waits, with some units running out of corridor space.

U.K Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt called the surgery cancellation measure “a planned, methodical, thoughtful” approach.

“We recognize that it is better, if you are unfortunately going to have to cancel or postpone some operations, to do it in a planned way,” Hunt told Sky News. “Although if you are someone whose operation has been delayed, I don’t belittle that for one moment and indeed I apologize to everyone who that has happened to.”

By Tuesday night, 12 NHS affiliates, including two ambulance services covering nearly nine million people, announced that they had reached the maximum state of emergency.

Keogh said: “I want to thank NHS staff who have worked incredibly hard under sustained pressure to take care of patients over the Christmas. We expect these pressures to continue and there are early signs of increased flu prevalence.”

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