Hospitals have been advised to defer non-urgent operations until mid-January as the holiday period puts the NHS under further pressure.
NHS England said hospitals must free up beds for the sickest patients and by acting early they can avoid last minute cancellations that can be costly and inconvenient for patients.
Cancer operations and time-critical procedures will go ahead as planned during the "expected surge" after the Christmas and New Year breaks.
An NHS England spokesman said: "In reviewing current and expected demand over the holiday period, the NEPP is making the following operational recommendations to hospitals experiencing high levels of operational pressures, in line with usual practice in previous years.
"The expectation is that non-urgent inpatient elective care should be deferred until mid-January to ensure beds and staff are available for the sickest patients.
"By acting early Trusts can avoid last minute cancellations that can be costly and inconvenient for patients."