Ambulance cover in one of Ireland's biggest regions was stretched to breaking point after eight vehicles had to queue at a major hospital and wait for patient handovers.
The eight ambulances had to wait in a queue at Cork University Hospital (CUH) due to delays in getting patients formally handed over to hospital departments.
On the same night, 225 patients were forced to spend the night on trolleys in hospital corridors around the country, almost tripling the number on trolleys the week prior, December 23, which stood at 83.
CUH had 24 patients on trolleys and its emergency department was struggling to cope with the volume of patients it received over Sunday and Monday. A source told the Irish Independent that CUH emergency department staff were "run off their feet".
The queue of eight ambulances occurred on Monday evening. Crews are prohibited under regulations from leaving a hospital until their patient has been formally handed over for treatment.
The HSE confirmed that CUH was busy at the time, saying: "They did have a high number of attendances there. There were delays. It (had) been a busy evening."
However, the HSE insisted that there was no impact on National Ambulance Service (NAS) services. It said: "Eight ambulance resources attended CUH on Monday and the hospital staff had dealt with all of these patients by 11pm.
"While any delays in turnaround times at hospitals can have an impact on the availability of NAS resources, in this instance there was no impact on service delivery by NAS."
The HSE pointed out that, when required, ambulances from adjacent regions and counties all support each other.
The centre with the most patients on trolleys on Monday night was University Hospital Limerick, with the Irish National Nurses and Midwives Organisation recording 36 patients without beds there.
Fianna Fail's health spokesman, Billy Kelleher, warned that Monday's events at CUH were a matter of major concern.
He said: "The public are genuinely worried. There has been all this talk about reconfiguring the ambulance service and revising cover in certain areas.
"But to hear that eight ambulances were effectively stalled at a hospital because there were delays in handing over patients is absolutely astonishing ... emergency departments are stretching to breaking point."