TWO patients fighting for their lives after contracting swine flu have been flown to hospitals abroad for last-resort specialist treatment.
The two men are in Aarhus Hospital in Denmark after they suffered severe respiratory complications due to flu while in intensive care in Limerick and Cork hospitals.
Both are availing of Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) treatment which provides oxygen to the blood.
The procedure uses an artificial heart-lung machine to take over the work of the lungs, and sometimes the heart.
It is most frequently used in newborns and young children, but it also can be used as a last resort for adults whose heart or lungs are failing.
One man who is in his twenties became critical in Limerick Regional Hospital and was sent to a Swedish hospital for the treatment before being transferred to the Danish facility.
The other patient was in intensive care in Cork University Hospital when his condition deteriorated, forcing doctors to send him for the treatment to Denmark.
Ireland is currently seeing record levels of flu and it has already claimed the lives of two people this winter.
It comes as hospitals across the country struggled with 468 patients on trolleys and chairs again yesterday morning, despite claims that closed beds have been opened.
Hospitals had 1,607 beds closed over Christmas, in many cases to save money. But despite the overcrowding crisis there are still more than 1,000 out of bounds to patients.
It means that patients are having to endure days on trolleys in some hospitals.
Meanwhile, there are around 150 posts for junior doctors unfilled. Areas experiencing particular difficulties are hospitals in Drogheda, Co Louth; Letterkenny, Co Donegal; Limerick and Beaumont in Dublin.
The vacancies are causing added problems for the hospitals which are having to hire additional agency staff to provide medical cover.
Visiting restrictions remain in place in Limerick Regional and in other hospitals. Hospitals in Portlaoise and Tullamore are the latest to impose visitor restrictions due to flu.
A combination of overcrowding and contagious disease has led to patients whose immune systems are weakened at heightened risk of contracting swine flu or one of the other strains circulating.