Beaumont Hospital has said it is postponing non-urgent procedures for tomorrow because of an increase in the number of people presenting to its emergency department.

All non-urgent elective procedures due to take place at Cork University Hospital (CUH) and the Mater Hospital today were postponed because of increased pressure on the emergency departments at both hospitals.

CUH cancelled 30 elective procedures, with patients advised their appointments will be rescheduled.

Six non-urgent procedures were also postponed at St James's Hospital.

More than 1,700 patients presented at the emergency department in CUH over the past eight days.

In the same period almost 900 patients required inpatient admission.

The increased levels of activity are due to the large number of sick patients requiring admission and recent cold weather, which resulted in a large number of patients with injuries as a result of falls.

The extra pressure has resulted in delays at the ED, which has in turn had a knock-on effect for other patients who were to scheduled to undergo elective surgery today.

Hospital management took a decision yesterday to postpone all non-urgent elective procedures in order to reduce pressure on the hospital as a whole.

The affected patients have been contacted and told their operations will be rescheduled.

Hospital management has asked that people contact their GPs and explore other options prior to attending the ED if their needs are not urgent.

Meanwhile, due to "very high numbers and protracted waiting times" at its ED, the Mater Hospital is asking members of the public "where possible to attend their GP in the first instance, or the Rapid Injury Clinic in Smithfield for minor injuries".

In a statement the hospital added that those attending the ED will be managed according to medical priority.

The Mater has also postponed a number of non-urgent elective procedures due to the high attendance rates at its ED.

Beginning of 2016 at CUH ED 'beyond belief'

A doctor at CUH has said the last nine days in the emergency department have been very difficult but the first 20 days of January were "beyond belief".

Speaking on RTÉ News At One, Dr Stephen Cusack said ED activity at the hospital has gone up by 20% in the last three weeks.

He said the entire system has to embrace the problem and there is no point in simply blaming the ED or saying it is the ED's problem. 

Dr Cusack added that staff at many levels in the hospital have been pro-active over the last number of weeks and that momentum needed to be maintained.

He said the staff members on remote wards needed to be as pro-active as they can be and that the full capacity protocol needed to be enacted, which would mean there were trolleys on corridors elsewhere in the hospital, aside from the ED.

'Lack of capacity needs to be acknowledged'

A consultant in emergency medicine at Sligo Regional Hospital has said the key issue is lack of capacity in hospitals and this needs to be acknowledged.

Dr Fergal Hickey, who is also the spokesperson for the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine, said that unless the capacity issue is dealt with, the problem will continue to worsen.

He said Cork University Hospital, the Mater Hospital and St James's have responded and their moves reduce the clinical risk for those who need urgent hospital admission.

He said Minister for Health Leo Varadkar understands the problem, but a significant amount of investment, both in physical infrastructure and staffing, is required to address the current problems.

"Before the recession, we had too few hospital beds. During austerity we lost somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 beds from the system.

"At the same time the demand was going up, so although the minister may put in an extra 100 beds, that's a drop in the ocean compared with the almost 2,000 beds that we lost during austerity," Dr Hickey said.