GPs are alarmed at the growing number of elderly people who are now refusing to go to overcrowded hospital emergency departments, putting their lives at risk.
The frail older patients are frightened of spending days on a trolley amid chaotic conditions - even though their resistance could have fatal consequences.
"Many of these patients need to be assessed and have appropriate treatment arranged. If emergency departments become no-go zones for fearful elderly patients, it's only a matter of time before we will be dealing with a tragic and unnecessary death as a result," warned Dr Ray Walley, GP spokesman for the IMO.
"It is just not possible to cater for patients who need emergency care in their homes or in GP surgeries, and there is a real risk now of the wider health system becoming log-jammed as a result of the blockage in hospitals," he added.
The numbers of patients on trolleys nationally fell to 371 yesterday - down from 584 on Wednesday and the record high of 601 on Tuesday. The release of funding allowed more long-term patients to be discharged to short-term nursing home beds or to return to their own house with home-care supports. More wards were also opened.
But much of the easing also came at the expense of hundreds of patients on public waiting lists for months who had their surgery cancelled - several of whom may yet end up in emergency departments because of deteriorating health in the coming days.
Patients in several bigger hospitals endured worsening conditions in A&Es as higher numbers piled onto trolleys and chairs.
Beaumont Hospital had 42 trolley patients, followed by Connolly Hospital in the constituency of Health Minister Leo Varadkar, where 38 patients waited for a bed. Hospitals in Galway, Drogheda and Letterkenny were also clogged.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation ((INMO) rejected a call by Mr Varadkar to increase the number of patients from trolleys per ward from one to two. This is already happening in badly-hit hospitals in Drogheda and Limerick. But under-staffing means patient safety may be at risk.
Asked about the recruitment of nurses in HSE run hospitals, a spokeswoman for the HSE said yesterday that it is "actively working at filling 265 live vacancies".
A recent recruitment campaign led to 3,700 applications. There is a recognised shortage of intensive care and theatre nurses. It has now secured 20 of these specialist nurses posts, she added.
Meanwhile, the HSE has appointed Liam Woods as one of its senior executives as interim Director of Acute Hospitals.
Mr Woods - son of former Fianna Fail Health Minister Michael Woods - will move from his current role as Director of Business Services.
He was formerly head of finance in the HSE.
It follows the departure of HSE hospitals chief Tony O'Connell who will return to Australia at the end of the month.
It has now emerged a pre-Christmas meeting of an Emergency Department Task Force was poorly attended and may have contributed to the failure to properly prepare for this week's overcrowding.