With a fierce winter promised in following weeks, Epsom and St Helier hospitals have taken steps to ensure wards are well staffed.

A&E departments in Epsom, St Helier and Sutton’s infirmaries are getting busier in the run up to winter and matrons will be extending their working hours during the week, as part of a new NHS scheme.

Pippa Hart, director of nursing, said: "Having a matron on shift until 8.00pm at night will really help support the care we provide to patients during this time, and will provide senior, visible nursing leadership to our patients, relatives and staff into the evening.

"Now is the perfect time to launch the changes to our matrons’ working hours, and we are confident that it will have very real benefits for the patients we serve."

The hospitals provide care for around 700,000 patients a year and have around 5,000 members of staff and last month, hospital watchdogs rated all three a ‘low risk’.

Last year, it was estimated that around 31,000 deaths occurred during winter, a 29 per cent increase compared to the previous year and the scheme hopes to prevent such a high figure this year.

Matron Pippa King said: "The matrons are all really supportive of this new way of working, and it’s had a really positive response from the nurses, doctors and healthcare assistants on the wards.

"We know that it’s vital our patients get the care they need around the clock.

"We’re delighted to be able to offer our services for a little bit longer each day, and are sure that our patients and their loved ones will benefit from our extended presence out on the wards."