The Health Service Executive has said that patients attending Emergency Departments are now generally more unwell and more likely to require admission than in the past.

It says that this is partly due to an increase in the number of frail elderly patients attending.

Tony O'Brien, the Director General of the HSE, told the Joint Committee on Health and Children, that the number of emergency department attendances has increased by 63,123 or 5%, over the past five years.

This does not include the 52,400 patients who attend Acute Medical Assessment Units and Medical Assessment Units.

Mr O'Brien said that significant action was taken prior to and after the Christmas period to plan for a surge in attendances and admissions.

An extra 173 short-stay beds are being opened on a phased basis in certain locations during this time of peak demand.

Also 424 transitional care beds have been opened up to the end of January, to move patients whose acute episode of care has finished.

Mr O' Brien said that the pressures on emergency departments are not new or unexpected.

He said that the number of delayed discharges in hospitals now stands at 745.

He told the committee that the number of extra delayed discharges being added to the weekly list, is exceeding the usual intake rate of 100 by about 1.6 times, making it extremely difficult to sustain improvement.

Meanwhile, hospital overcrowding has increased with 478 patients waiting today.

Beaumont Hospital in Dublin is worst affected, with 41 patients waiting on a trolley in the Emergency Department, or on a ward for admission to a bed.

Other hospitals with a large number of patients waiting are: Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda 36 and University Hospital Limerick 31.

University Hospital Galway and Letterkenny General each have 30 patients waiting.

The figures are complied by the Irish Nurses and Midwives' Organisation.