Record numbers of sick people on trolleys and chairs in A&E will lead to an increase in deaths, senior emergency medics warned today.
Although the numbers waiting for a bed in a ward fell by 77 from yesterday's record 569 headcount, doctors claimed the overcrowding crisis was a grave situation for all patients.
The Irish Association for Emergency Medicine (IAEM) warned that trolley waits were potentially a matter of life and death.
And the group dismissed the Health Service Executive's (HSE) claim that increasing numbers of swine flu cases were to blame for the spike in waiting times.
"It is now well-established that boarding hospital inpatients in emergency departments results in increased numbers of deaths among this group of ill patients, compared to similar patients who are admitted to a hospital ward in a timely fashion," a spokesman said.
"And contrary therefore to the line taken by the HSE, patients with seasonal influenza have not contributed significantly to the current excess of inpatients being boarded in emergency departments," a spokesman said.
A survey of A&E crisis overcrowding found 492 patients on trolleys and chairs this morning, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (Inmo) said.
Cork University Hospital, the Mid-West in Limerick and Beaumont and Tallaght in Dublin were facing the worst conditions, with more than 33 people waiting for a bed in each emergency room.
Others badly hit were the Midland Regional in Mullingar with 29; Cavan General with 27; Our Lady of Lourdes Drogheda with 24 and in Dublin, The Mater with 29; St Vincent's with 25; and Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown with 24.
Jan O'Sullivan, Labour's health spokeswoman, accused health minister Mary Harney of failing to respond.
"The very least that people should expect when there is a mess like this, is for some kind of reaction from the person who is supposed to be in charge. Instead we get a deafening silence," she said.
"Just where is Mary Harney, and why at a time when people expect some leadership and some action, has she gone to ground?"
Crisis in A&E waiting time was declared a national emergency in 2006 when 495 patients were recorded on trolleys in one day.
Ms O'Sullivan added: "It is simply not acceptable that people are forced to endure these appalling conditions, and yet the minister does not seem to give a hoot."
The IAEM also warned that keeping flu patients in A&E was highly hazardous and likely to spread the disease further and faster.
Much of the current problem was caused by shutting more than 1,500 acute hospital beds or making them unavailable to receive acute admissions, the IAEM said.
"This failure to provide adequate hospital bed capacity to deal with the health service's acute workload is the primary problem to be addressed and cannot and should not be blamed on seasonal 'flu'," a spokesman said.