The HSE has apologised to anyone impacted by the current overcrowding in Emergency Departments nationwide.
It said that hospital staff, GPs and community services are all dealing with a "significant surge in patient demand" and it is making "every effort to manage and improve the situation".
"The current flu season spiked over Christmas and the New Year. It is now at levels significantly ahead of those experienced last year as it arrived up to four weeks earlier. Children and older persons are particularly vulnerable to viral infection and represent the vast majority of flu positive presentations this season," it noted.
In response, some hospitals have introduced visitor restrictions in an attempt to stop the spread of flu. The HSE advised all visitors to check with healthcare facilities in advance of visiting.
"The public are also asked to observe good hand hygiene by washing hands regularly using alcohol gels provided in healthcare facilities and observing good respiratory etiquette by using a tissue to cough or sneeze into, dispose of it immediately afterwards and wash your hands regularly," it said.
In recent days, trolley figures have reached their highest level ever and the decision has been taken to cancel all elective surgeries in two busy Cork hospitals.
Yesterday (January 6) saw 760 patients waiting on trolleys and chairs in hospitals nationwide, making it the worst day for trolley overcrowding since records began, according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO). However, this figure has been matched today, with 760 patients again waiting on trolleys and chairs in hospitals nationwide.
The worst affected hospitals today are University Hospital Limerick (75), University Hospital Galway (51), and Cork University Hospital and Letterkenny General (both 47).
On Sunday, the decision was taken by the HSE to cancel all elective surgeries at Cork University Hospital and Mercy University Hospital, following a meeting with the INMO.
However, this move has been criticised by the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA), which warned that it will have severe knock-on effects for patient health outcomes.
It pointed out that all non-essential surgery had already been cancelled in Cork's main hospitals since mid-December. This decision to postpone remaining essential elective procedures means all planned surgery has now been cancelled.
The IHCA insisted that this will have an impact on vulnerable patients waiting for essential surgery.
"The decision to cancel all remaining elective surgery at Cork's acute public hospitals is simply not acceptable. It is forcing hospitals and consultants to determine which patient is more worthy of treatment.
"No hospital consultant wants to tell a patient waiting for essential breast or prostate cancer surgery that their critical treatment has been cancelled and, worse still, that they are not in a position to tell that patient when it will be rescheduled," commented IHCA president, Dr Donal O'Hanlon.
The IHCA said that its consultant members are now very concerned that the decision to cancel complex and time-critical surgeries at Cork hospitals will be replicated in acute public hospitals throughout the country, particularly those experiencing serious overcrowding.
It insisted that spikes in demands during the winter months are predictable, and effective planning should be able to manage the situation. However, the HSE and Department of Health "have consistently failed to plan ahead, leaving hospitals faced with such difficult decisions", it said.
"Cancelling essential surgery cannot even credibly be presented as a solution to the ongoing lack of capacity and overcrowding at our acute public hospitals. Describing it as a solution suggests it is solving a problem when in truth, it is removing access to surgery for patients with very complex needs.
"Minister Harris and the HSE need to put in place well thought out, meaningful actions which don't simply move the bottleneck from one part of the hospital to another, or address the needs of one category of patients while penalising another," Dr O'Hanlon added.
Discussions on this topic are now closed.