Revealed: Waiting list patients are hidden victims of the A&E chaos
Patients desperately in need of long-awaited operations have become the hidden victims of the nation's trolley crisis.
New figures reveal the hospitals with the worst A&E overcrowding have also seen extreme delays for patients on public waiting lists worsen over the past year.
Disappointed patients have suffered short-notice cancellations of planned surgery in many cases because they must give up their bed to a more critical case coming through A&E.
An analysis by the Irish Independent shows the numbers of patients waiting more than 18 months for surgery more than doubled from 64 to 142 in University Hospital Limerick between January and November.
Tallaght Hospital in Dublin has suffered a similar deterioration in waiting times, with the numbers in the queue for surgery for over 18 months increasing from 243 to 370.
Long waits have also risen in St Vincent's Hospital, Letterkenny Hospital, St James's Hospital, Our Lady's Hospital Drogheda and University Hospital Waterford.
Trolley gridlock has worsened again as hospitals ran out of beds on wards for 575 trolley patients yesterday morning.
Several endured another day of trolleys overflowing on corridors as flu and other respiratory illnesses fuelled a surge in attendances.
The worst hit were Cork University Hospital and Letterkenny Hospital, with 65 patients still waiting for more than 24 hours nationally for a bed yesterday evening.
Emergency hospital consultants who have been at the coalface of the crisis warned of the need for "immediate and sustained measures" to increase capacity with more acute, community beds and critical care beds.
Emergency consultants' spokeswoman Dr Emily O'Conor said they welcomed the promise by Health Minister Simon Harris to increase the number of emergency consultants.
"Consultants will inevitably bring the expertise and training of the specialty of emergency medicine to bear and optimise the assessment and treatment of patients," she said.
But this would have a "disappointing impact" without more beds.
Mater Hospital consultant in infectious diseases Dr Jack Lambert said the flu this year did not appear to be more virulent. The patterns this year do not appear to be remarkably different.
However, as with other years some healthy people, along with at-risk groups, have become very ill with the virus.
"Flu is unpredictable and this year there seems to be higher incidence of people getting it.
"Of those there are a few healthy people who get the flu and end up sick and in the intensive care unit.
"Those tend to be otherwise previously healthy young adults.
"Anybody can catch it and there are a few tragic cases every year," he said.
He said the fact it surged around Christmas and the new year, at the time when people were spending more time indoors and in company, added to the spread.
Although the standard flu vaccine does not adequately cover the Influenza B Yamagata strain, which is striking most people, the advice is to still get the jab.
The Private Hospitals' Association also said there were free beds in private facilities that could be used by public patients to relieve overcrowding.
Chief executive Simon Nugent said private hospitals could deliver cutting-edge diagnostics, bed and doctors to significantly reduce the number of patients on trolleys in a relatively short space of time.