The boss of the region's largest hospital trust has said preparations for winter have started earlier and in more detail than usual after fears the NHS will be unable to cope with added pressure.

Over the last few weeks, hospitals and the ambulance service have seen the kind of pressure they normally only face in the winter with A&E departments being over-stretched and patients facing long waits for ambulances and hospital treatment.

The recent problems have heightened concern that things could get even worse in colder weather.

However, Nick Hulme, chief executive of the East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust (ESNEFT), said preparation work being done now should help ease winter pressures.

He said: "We’re already seeing significant numbers of delays both within the hospital and further down the line in ambulances, so we wouldn’t normally expect that at this time of year.

“The positive aspect is that we’ve started our planning much earlier. We’ve seen the investment centrally down to trusts much earlier, in systems much earlier than we’ve previously seen.

“So we’re getting ahead of the game this year in a way that we haven’t done in the past, going out to make new appointments for staff, both within the hospital and outside the hospital so we can support patients to get home quicker if we’ve got the resources in the community.”

However, the president of the Association of Directors of Social Services in England Sarah McClinton said her members remained very concerned.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “We’re seeing pressures at the moment in summer that we would normally expect to see in the winter months, so I think what directors are saying to us across the country is, going into this winter people are more worried than they’ve ever been before.

“What we’re seeing is the impact of a decade or more of underfunding in social care, together with the impact of the pandemic, and now the cost-of-living crisis, and that’s having a really devastating impact on the lives of people who need social care, and also those who are working in care.”