OPERATIONS and appointments have been cancelled in south Essex hospitals as they are struggling to cope with exceptionally high numbers of sick patients.

Basildon and Southend hospitals confirmed they had cancelled elective surgery - with Basildon dropping all its planned operations.

Basildon Hospital was listed as Opel 3 alert status for the first time ever, which means patient flow is compromised and decisions have to be made at the highest level.

It is one below the highest grading of Opel 4, which is put in place when pressures on the health service has left them “unable to deliver comprehensive care”.

A distraught cancer patient yesterday had her operation cancelled 24 hours before it was to take place at Southend Hospital.

Sherry Clarke, 52, from Hockley, was due to have a cancerous kidney removed today but this was cancelled.

Ms Clarke was diagnosed with cancer of the kidney in December. She said: “This is a life-threatening situation. I have one partially-functioning kidney but that kidney has cancer and must be removed. I was due to start on dialysis straight after the operation.

“I feel devastated and let down. It’s major surgery and now I’m told I can’t have it and I don’t know when I will have it. I’m so afraid. I don’t want to die.”

Another cancer patient Joy Seels, 75, from Eastwood, has endured a number of cancelled appointments. She said: “It’s absolutely appalling. I managed to get my appointment because I complained but I feel sorry for those who haven’t got the strength to complain.

“My file has now been marked that my appointments mustn’t be cancelled but I’m hoping that’s the case”

Those who have had cause to visit the hospitals in recent days have reported staff working under gruelling circumstances. Kelly Buckley, 45, from Westcliff, said: “I arrived at A&E with my little boy at about 12.30pm on Monday and was very surprised at how busy the department was.

“There was a long wait between seeing each of the specific doctors necessary to my son’s condition, but you could see how the staff were really working their socks off and you couldn’t help but really feel for all of them, especially considering how caring and lovely they were being.”

Ms Buckley added: “An irate woman started getting very vocal and pretty insulting, as she was told there would be a four or five hour wait for an ambulance to transfer her son to Basildon Hospital where he needed to go.

“Despite the nurses having to take her insults, they remained super helpful and caring towards her and her little boy.

Basildon Hospital said yesterday it was postponing all “non-urgent elective operations” and some outpatient appointments. A spokesman said : “Like all hospitals this winter, we are currently facing exceptionally high demand for services. Yesterday, we saw an unprecedented number of patients requiring urgent and emergency care.”

Neil Rothnie, medical director at Southend Hospital said: “We are postponing some elective operations and outpatients appointments following clinical assessment of patients so that we can make some beds available for emergency admissions.”

Both hospitals said contingency plans were in place to limit disruption to patients.