The Irish Hospital Consultants' Association has said it is very concerned that the crisis in emergency departments will be worse this winter than last year.

At its annual conference in Tullamore today, the association's President, Dr Gerard Crotty said Minister for Health Leo Varadkar needed to take immediate action and reopen hospital beds, theatres and community beds.

Dr Crotty said there was a major capacity issue, with not enough community beds for patients to be discharged to.

He also rejected suggestions that consultants were not available to discharge patients at weekends, which was adding to the problem.

He said consultants were under pressure covering for colleagues, with over 230 vacant posts and could not do any more.

Dr Crotty said consultants work weekends when on-call, discharge patients and treat the most acutely ill, often doing this work, without being paid.

He also told the conference there was a crisis in private hospitals, as the cost of clinical indemnity insurance had doubled in the last three years.

Dr Crotty warned that some specialties in private medicine have problems attracting doctors and because of this, the demand on public hospitals will increase.

Minister Varadkar told the conference that he is working towards a further substantial increase in the health budget for next year.

In his speech he expressed frustration that so many long standing problems remain.

He said that 300 extra beds will be opened in November and December, to ease emergency department overcrowding.

Hospital beds are not used as efficiently as they could be and studies show that Irish doctors see fewer patients than other countries, he said.

Mr Varadkar said the service has 700 more consultants than a decade ago, although there were now 10,000 fewer staff and funding was €1.5bn lower than at the peak.

Mr Varadkar asked consultants not to criticise the health service but to be advocates for it.

He said a lot of good health managers have left for the private sector and that paying HSE managers more is "politically toxic".