HOSPITAL Accident and Emergency departments have seen the biggest surge in patients on trolleys so far this year - with 541 were left waiting for a bed.
The ominous rise in the trolley toll comes after the Government claimed a series of measures helped prevent the annual dangerous spike in overcrowding after New Year’s day.
But today’s gridlock shows this will be difficult to maintain as more elderly patients need to be hospitalised and hospitals cope with an increase in the numbers of people suffering from flu.
The figures came from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation who are meeting over two days to work out a plan for a series of work stoppages in pursuit of their campaign for pay increases.
The figures today show there were 392 waiting in hospital emergency departments and 149 were in wards elsewhere in the hospital.
The worst-hit hospitals today are:
*University Hospital Limerick - 44
*Letterkenny University Hospital - 36
*Cork University Hospital - 36
An additional 550 homecare packages have been over the winter to ease the trolley crisis but they only benefit only nine hospitals.
These hospitals have been earmarked for more investment after an analysis of overcrowding and so-called bed blocking.
The extra homecare packages were designed to move as many patients who no longer need acute care back to their homes over the coming weeks.
Around 300 were be used in the run-up to Christmas to empty as many beds as possible.
Meanwhile, HSE officials have warned of a rise of hospital admissions due to flu and expect a further "surge" over the coming weeks.
Health minister Simon Harris said this year's strain is H1N1, otherwise known as swine flu.
He said pregnant women and those under-65 with pre-existing conditions are most at risk of catching this strain and said it's still not too late to get vaccinated.
Despite the rise in both the INMO and official HSE trolley numbers, Mr Harris argued that the figures are still down on last year.
The HSE said there are 393 patients on trolleys today, 8pc down on the same day in 2018.
However, the INMO figures of 541 are higher than the HSE's as they count those waiting on trolleys on wards as well as in Emergency Departments.
The HSE said the number of delayed discharge patients is up from 471 on Christmas Day to 526 today.
Mr Harris was asked if he was trying to put a positive spin on the increased numbers on trolleys by highlighting the fall in numbers year-on-year.
He replied: "It's still far too many but I find the question a bit interesting because if we were standing here and it was an 8pc increase in hospital trolleys you'd be saying 'it's terrible, they're up 8pc'.
"I'm just making the point that they're down 8pc.
"Of course there's far too many on hospital trolleys. Of course we need to do everything we possibly can to help patient flow."
"But let's remember what's happening in the health service today... people are coming into hospital.
"They're often very sick with flu.
"They need to get assessed.
"It takes longer perhaps to find them an appropriate isolation space in the hospital therefore they're detained within the emergency department for longer and that obviously impacts on the flow of other patients.
"It's really important that the HSE prioritises isolation, that it does everything it possibly can to make sure that we don't spread the flu throughout the hospital and throughout the community and we need the public's help in that regard as well.
"The Government, the HSE, people working right across our health services are working as hard as they possibly can. I don't think there's any doubt about that in terms of the work of people in our hospitals.
"We say that a surge will come. The surge has come. We're doing everything we possibly can to manage it."