A TEAM of experts has been drafted in to sort out hospitals where A&E overcrowding and trolley gridlock is worst, it emerged yesterday.
Health Minister Mary Harney said around "five or six " hospitals still had problems with overcrowding and that a team of experts from here and the UK had been dispatched to assess the problem.
She said the first hospitals to be visited were Beaumont in Dublin, Limerick Regional Hospital and Our Lady of Lourdes, Drogheda, with Tallaght Hospital next in line.
Yesterday, there was little respite in the trolley crisis with 425 patients waiting, according to figures from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation. There were 25 people waiting in Beaumont, 12 in Limerick Regional and 14 in Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda.
The Drogheda hospital has had to cope with high numbers despite putting all non-emergency operations on hold for January.
The chief medical officer of the Department of Health, Tony Holohan, has admitted that this level of emergency overcrowding has increased the risks of swine flu and other contagious diseases spreading.
Meanwhile, Waterford Regional Hospital announced yesterday it was putting a "complete ban" on visiting due to the increase in flu-like illnesses, and it also confirmed cases of the winter vomiting bug.
Strict visitor restrictions have been introduced at Cork University Hospital to prevent further spread of swine flu.
Nearly one in three swine flu patients who are seriously ill in hospital intensive care units had no previous health problems, it has emerged.
Although vaccines are only recommended for at-risk groups -- that is, those who have underlying conditions -- swine flu is also continuing to cause life-threatening complications in people who were otherwise healthy.
There are 42 people fighting the flu in intensive care units, including a small number of children.
Around 70pc were suffering from such illnesses as respiratory disease, heart disease, diabetes, or they were pregnant. Medics said the advice from the national immunisation advisory committee was that only these at-risk groups needed to be given the flu jab for free -- guidelines which other European countries follow.
Ireland is currently seeing the highest rates of flu on record with two deaths this winter.
Most are suffering from swine flu but other strains are also a risk, including influenza B. However, GPs are being told to reserve the seasonal flu vaccine for pregnant women, children and teenagers.
All other groups are being offered the old swine flu vaccine, although more supplies of the seasonal jab are due in the next two weeks.