HOSPITALS have been ordered to carry out a full review into their operational plans over the new year period after a senior HSE official voiced his "very serious concern" about the number of patients lying on trolleys.
Two-thirds of hospitals have seen increases in their trolley numbers this year as fears grow over the prospect of an overcrowding crisis over the coming days.
The Herald has learned that €25m earmarked in the health budget next year has been fast-tracked in order to deal with pressures facing hospital staff and patients from New Year's Day.
In a stark letter to the CEOs of all major hospitals, a senior HSE official said that the growth in trolley numbers in 2014 is "of very serious concern and is being focussed on at the highest levels".
Dr Tony O'Connell, the National Director of Acute Hospitals, said it would be "prudent" of management teams to actively plan for on-going pressures that may arise.
He warned that peak periods - whereby patient numbers are at their highest - are likely to be especially difficult in January.
"Each Hospital CEO/GM remains accountable for ensuring that they have appropriate systems and processes in place, so that quality and safety is maintained at all times across the hospital," Dr O'Connell wrote.
The senior HSE chief said he acknowledged that some of the issues facing hospital staff are outside the control of management, including the Fair Deal scheme.
The scheme, which is availed of by elderly people waiting for nursing home places, has experienced waiting times of up to 15 weeks this year.
"I acknowledge that there are clearly issues outside the direct control of hospital managers," Dr O'Connell wrote in a letter released under The Freedom of Information Act.
"However, it remains the case that management teams must do everything possible to maximise internal efficiencies."