The Government has been criticised after the number of patients waiting on hospital trolleys hit the highest level for the year so far.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) confirmed that more than 631 people were on trolleys on Tuesday during the daily 8am count at hospitals across the country.
A total of 465 were waiting in emergency departments, while 166 were in wards.
The worst-hit hospitals were University Hospital Limerick, with 55 patients waiting for a bed, Sligo University Hospital with 50, and Cork University Hospital on 42.
The numbers come after the highest total of patients waiting on trolleys was recorded at University Hospital Limerick last week.
The hospital is the most consistently overcrowded in the country. It saw a 17-bed ward closed over two weeks ago, and local representatives say the issue is now at crisis point.
The number of patients waiting in permanent beds has been a consistent issue for the Government, with political opponents claiming not enough is being done to remedy the issue.
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald accused the government of failing to take “meaningful action” to address the crisis.
“University Hospital Limerick was similarly in a state of chaos last week and that shows no sign of letting up because there are 55 patients on trolleys there today and Limerick is yet again the worst effected hospital in the state,” she said during leaders’ questions.
“State-wide today there are 631 patients on trolleys – the highest number in Ireland this year. It is frightening.
“Overcrowding impacts on patients and it puts them at risk. It also affects the health and wellbeing of staff and both of these things are intolerable. I think that’s a disgrace,” she said.
“This is no longer a winter problem and one that is amenable to a seasonal intervention, it is year-round now. You have failed to get to grips with it.”
Mr Varadkar said: “I understand the enormous inconvenience and suffering that hospital overcrowding causes to patients and their families and also the stress and pressures it puts on staff.
“We should focus on solutions not on accusations. Our solutions are threefold – they are about capacity and better use of existing resources and beds and it also means investment in primary care and community care.
“We are increasing the number of beds in our hospitals all the time. By the end of year we will back up to about 11,00 beds in our acute hospital system, that’s the highest number since 2009.”
Fianna Fail health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said: “We have the second lowest number of beds per capita in Europe.
Hospital overcrowding has reached a record high with 631 patients on #trolleys today acc to @INMO_IRL - the highest number so far this year. Whatâs causing this? Our shortage of doctors. I explained on the #plinth with @fiannafailparty @lichamber & @DarraghOBrienTD pic.twitter.com/5fzm4CBA0d— Stephen Donnelly (@DonnellyStephen) April 9, 2019
“What we’re seeing is crisis after crisis after crisis, and ultimately it’s the patients who suffer, their families suffer, and it’s putting our doctors, nurses and midwives in an impossible situation.
“They’re trying to provide a service that the Government is making it harder and harder for them to provide.”
Labour Party health spokesman Alan Kelly described the issue as unacceptable.
“We are now near the middle of April, the worst of the winter flu crisis is over, but yet 631 people are on trolleys today,” he said.
“It is a sad state of affairs that these types of figures are not shocking people any more.
“The INMO have not recorded a day where there has been less than 250 people on trolleys. We should not have to accept these kind of figures as the new normal.
“Excessive trolley numbers like these are not acceptable to patients, their families or those who have to work in these conditions.
“The solutions are there, they’ve been presented to the Minister for Health so many times, but he continues to ignore this problem.”
A spokeswoman from the HSE said that the figures were due to patients staying longer in hospitals.
“While the winter period initiatives are coming to an end, acute hospitals are continuing to see growth in attendances that are not flu-related,” she said.
“Many of the patients presenting require longer periods of hospitalisation due to underlying conditions and frailty.
“The HSE regrets that any patient should have to wait for admission from emergency department (ED) to a hospital ward.
“However, it is important to note that once a decision is made to admit a patient, they still remain under the care of the staff in ED until they can safely transfer to the appropriate hospital ward for their ongoing care.”