Health Minister Leo Varadkar has said the trolley crisis in some hospitals will need a "number of years" to solve.
There are currently more than 500 people on trolleys in hospitals across the country, 93 of them in Dublin.
Mr Varadkar confirmed there was "severe overcrowding" yesterday in Beaumont Hospital and Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.
But he also defended the Government's record on health, saying that "overcrowding is down on last year".
He admitted, however, that it would take several years to solve the problem.
The numbers waiting on trolleys was said to have been as low as 50 on Christmas Eve, according to the minister, who visited six hospitals yesterday.
Mr Varadkar maintained that overcrowding was down by between "10 and 15pc this year" compared with last.
"We're in better shape than we were last year," he said outside St James's Hospital in Dublin.
A total of 83pc of people were being seen in less than nine hours, while 17pc of patients waited longer than that.
The first few weeks of the year are traditionally the busiest for hospitals.
Mr Varadkar's hospital visits yesterday allowed him to "see the situation" for himself.
"I want to make sure that hospitals are opening any beds that are closed and discharging patients that can be discharged," he said.
To alleviate the crisis, the minister confirmed that elective surgeries are being cancelled or not scheduled at all in some hospitals experiencing overcrowding.
"This is not a problem that can be solved quickly, it's been around for about 20 years," he said.
"What is required is that we make incremental improvements over the next number of years and that's going to require sustained focus, sustained investment and additional capacity."
Mr Varadkar said the Government has invested considerably in health, including the Free GP Scheme.
"Nearly 300,000 people who used to pay for their doctor don't have to. Not everything is better, but lots of things are," he said.