The NHS should scrap all non-emergency surgery for two months over winter to prevent another crisis, according to senior medics.
Procedures such as hip replacements should not be planned during January and February to free up beds and avoid cancellations, the Society of Acute Medicine said.
It comes after NHS officials ordered hospitals to cancel tens of thousands of operations and outpatient appointments earlier this year due to winter pressures.
Dr Nick Scriven, president of the society which represents hospital doctors and nurses in acute medicine, said a routine ban on elective surgery at NHS trusts during the busiest months may be one way to ease pressure.
The ban should not apply to urgent cases and cancer care, he added.
This winter hospitals were forced to open previously-closed ‘mothball’ wards and turn investigations areas into makeshift wards.
Dr Scriven said that he had even heard of one hospital which had closed a birthing unit for a few days to make space for medical patients in need of inpatient beds.
He said that the NHS had ‘just coped’ over winter but this was based on the goodwill of staff.
In an interview with the Press Association, Dr Scriven added: ‘People in power have to sit up and take notice that this isn’t going to get better and unless something radical is done it is going to get worse.
‘There are the things that people always talk about, like this year the NHS suggested that people should suspend elective activity for a month, should that be a routine thing?
‘To free up the extra ward in every hospital in January and February. That would be one radical thing.’ Meanwhile, no more acute beds should be closed, he added.
Three times as many patients were hospitalised this year following the worst flu season in seven years.
The spike in flu cases meant hospitals in England were told that they could defer non-urgent operations throughout January to ease pressure.
The comments come after a document published on the House of Commons Library highlighted the significant pressures on the health service in England over winter.
Hospitals almost full to capacity, long waits for patients and ambulance delays were recurring themes.
Last month, the Public Accounts Committee warned that the NHS was stuck in survival mode, using short term solutions to ‘paper over the cracks’ but did little to achieve lasting improvement.
It called for fresh thinking to address the increasing demand within the budget constraints.
Health officials made the unprecedented step to postpone 55,000 operations in January as the NHS struggled to cope with the relentless pressure.
Prime Minister Theresa May denied the NHS is in a crisis – despite the controversial decision. Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt apologised for the move.
A&E staff took to social media to condemn the situation, claiming to be ‘ashamed’ over the ‘substandard care’ the NHS was offering during the ‘worst winter ever’.
And consultants were assigned to casualty units to assess patients on arrival. Anyone not judged to be seriously ill faced being turned away.
Firefighters with just six days of first aid training were also being sent to thousands of medical emergencies.