A leading consultant has said hundreds of patients are dying every year due to a shortage of critical care beds.

Emergency department consultant Dr Fergal Hickey told the annual conference of the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) that studies show the shortages are resulting in an estimated 300 deaths per year.

Meanwhile, the IHCA has said the country needs the equivalent of six large hospitals in terms of extra acute beds.

The president of the association, Dr Tom Ryan, told the conference that the problems in hospitals are now at such a critical level that patient safety is compromised on a daily basis.

Dr Ryan said that thousands of extra beds are needed.

He said the priority focus on staying within budget means proving safe and timely care is being relegated to a secondary consideration.

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Dr Ryan added that healthcare administrators engage in the "annual charade" of the Emergency Department Task Force.

Arriving to address the conference in Kilkenny, Minister for Health Simon Harris said he had ordered a bed capacity review.

That review will not just look at acute hospital beds but will also examine the number of beds elsewhere, including in the community.

The minister also said there had been an increase of over 4% in the number of hospital consultants employed.

He said he planned to have the service come in on budget this year.

Mr Harris also said the service had to plan  for peak pressure times in emergency departments and deal with the 629 patients currently occupying beds, whose acute care has ended.