Conditions in A&Es 'now a danger to our patients' lives'
Frail elderly patients are being left on trolleys for days while enduring "sub-human conditions" as hospitals grapple with record levels of overcrowding.
Dr James Gray, emergency consultant at Tallaght Hospital, said conditions in its A&E were dangerous - and it was so cramped it amounted to an evacuation hazard.
In a blistering memo to Health Minister Simon Harris he said one 84-year-old patient was forced to wait on a trolley for an entire day, while a 64-year-old was suffering a delay of four days.
The hospital was struggling with a lack of staff and beds.
They are "institutionally abused," he told the minister.
Dr Emily O'Conor, spokeswoman for emergency consultants, warned that the overcrowding is costing lives.
The alarm was voiced as hospitals saw the numbers of patients soar with 80 patients on trolleys in University Hospital Limerick. There were 40 patients on trolleys yesterday morning and 43 in Cork University Hospital.
Hospitals have been slow to recover from the impact of the adverse weather conditions and the number of emergency patients has soared in the past week.
A HSE spokesman said: "Hospitals are continuing to focus on discharging patients in so far as they can. Last week a further €5m was allocated to 13 hospitals to support the purchase of home support packages for the next four weeks."
However, it now looks like planned surgery on hundreds of waiting list patients will have to be cancelled for a second week to relieve the pressure.
A meeting of the Emergency Department Taskforce decided to cancel all non-urgent inpatient procedures across most hospital sites.
"In all cases the hospital will contact patients to let them know if their procedures are going ahead," said a spokesman.
"In some sites day surgery will be postponed in order to allow hospitals to provide beds for emergency patients. Where necessary, hospitals will contact patients directly to advise on any postponements."
Public hospitals continue "to engage with private hospitals" to transfer suitable patients where clinically appropriate and beds are available in major urban centres.
The HSE insisted it was also trying to use a significant number of additional beds which are open across the system, with 621 extra beds made available yesterday.
The HSE said the escalation in overcrowding was due to a range of pressures - including the 502 patients who are ready for discharge but need step down supports such as a home care package.
At the same time there has been a rise in patients coming to A&Es.
"Prior to the storm the number of patients attending was 8pc (15,000) up on 2017 which has been creating significant pressure. Last week, following the snow period, hospitals were reporting even further increases in hospital attendances," it said.
There has also been a rise in the number of patients who need to be admitted. Flu and infection control are also impacting on numbers.
The number of patients aged 75 and over requiring a hospital admission is up 8pc in the year to date. These patients typically require a longer length of stay in hospital.