NHS England is to lift the suspension of elective surgery imposed to help cope with winter pressure.
The National Emergency Pressure Panel (NEPP) met on Friday and has decided that planned operations, suspended because of pressure on the NHS in January, can resume next month.
The move indicates that the NHS is coping better with winter pressure.
It comes after hospitals in England were advised to cancel all non-urgent operations and in-patient treatments at the start of the New Year.
Hospitals were advised to defer non-urgent operations until mid-January, which was extended to free up staff and beds.
The NEPP had also lifted a ban on mixed-sex wards to cope with the pressure over the winter period.
But the Friday meeting heard that “pressures on the NHS have eased in January compared to December” opening the door for hospitals to start planning a “return to a full elective care programme” from the start of February.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt apologised to the tens of thousands of patients whose operations were cancelled as a result of the suspension earlier this month.
“It is absolutely not what I want,” he told Sky News. “If you are someone whose operation has been delayed I don’t belittle that for one moment, and indeed I apologise to everyone who that has happened to.”
However, he said postponing treatment to ease pressure on A&E departments was “better for people”.
The comments came after Theresa May denied the health service was in “crisis”, insisting it was more prepared “than ever before”.
But responding to the decision at the start of the month, John Kell, head of policy at the Patients Association, said patients were “losing out”.
“NHS England’s decision to defer elective surgery throughout January and authorise the use of mixed-sex wards is a sign of how hard winter pressures are hitting the NHS this year,” he said.
“Combined with regular first-hand reports of worsening conditions in hospitals, including growing numbers of patients being treated on trolleys in corridors, it is clear how badly patients are losing out.”