Health chiefs and hospital bosses are facing increasing pressure to clear patients from corridors around emergency departments after a watchdog warned it is a medical risk.
The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has ordered Tallaght Hospital to stop holding patients on trolleys as they await admission to wards from next Thursday.
Fergal Hickey, president of the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine, claimed an estimated 350 patients are dying across the country every year because of chronic overcrowding in emergency units.
"This is the first serious attempt to solve the problems that are putting the lives of patients at risk and it clearly has implications for hospitals other than Tallaght," he said.
"Lots of emergency departments around the country are in the same position and now that Tallaght has been given this direction they have no alternative but to change their practices. But it can't be enforced in Tallaght and not everywhere else, particularly because patients are dying because of it."
HIQA carried out an unannounced inspection at Tallaght Hospital on Wednesday and discovered a number of issues which posed a serious risk to the health and safety of patients.
There were 20 patients waiting on trolleys for admission, five of them for more than 24 hours and one with tuberculosis who had been placed in a clinical room which opened directly on to a corridor. More than 250 patients were on trolleys awaiting admission around the country on Friday morning - including 18 in Tallaght.
Management at the hospital were warned they have until next Thursday to stop leaving patients waiting for a bed on trolleys in corridors near the emergency department.
Eilish Hardiman, the incoming chief executive at Tallaght Hospital, confirmed the unannounced visit was part of an HIQA investigation into the quality, safety and governance of the care provided by the hospital for patients who require acute admission. "The hospital continues to co-operate fully with the authority in its investigation and will not be commenting during the investigation," she added.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) said it will support Tallaght with the directive and has developed a full capacity protocol to all hospitals when required. "In an ideal world, no patient should be treated on a corridor, and in this regard the HSE has undertaken a considerable body of work through its acute medicine programme and the surgical programmes in order to reduce - and eventually eliminate - the numbers of people waiting for treatment in EDs (emergency departments)," a spokeswoman added.