The level of hospital overcrowding has deteriorated further with 551 patients waiting today for admission to a bed.

It represents the fourth highest level of overcrowding recorded since emergency department and ward waiting figures were collected by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.

The hospital worst-affected is University Hospital Limerick, which has 55 patients waiting on a trolley or on a ward for admission to a bed.

Other hospitals badly affected are: Beaumont with 46 waiting, Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown with 45, Naas General with 39 and St Vincent's with 37.

Yesterday, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said that despite the measures recently introduced, it still has not been enough to reduce overcrowding in emergency departments.

Additional measures are to be introduced this week.

The Emergency Department Task Force is due to meet next on 9 March.

All non-urgent planned surgery today has been cancelled at University Hospital Limerick.

The hospital is also planning to review all non-urgent surgery planned for the week across the hospital group to cope with the difficulties.

Patients are being transferred from UHL to Ennis Hospital, Nenagh Hospital and St John's Hospital.

Where possible, patients who have finished their care are being transferred to community care.

Patients are also being asked to keep the emergency department for emergencies only and to contact their GP in the first instance.

Visitor restrictions are also in place at University Hospital Limerick due to a small number of winter vomiting bug cases.

The INMO has said the level of overcrowding in hospitals around the country is "entirely predictable".

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, Director of Industrial Relations with the INMO, said the focus had to be on opening closed beds, staffing those beds and getting nurses back into the system.

She said they had concrete agreements that extra nursing posts were required and these posts now had to be "aggressively recruited".

She said her members were reporting predictable winter conditions but that there were means of delivering care in the community that does not require hospital admission.

Ms Ní Sheaghdha said these services need to be fast-tracked.