The Health Service Executive National Service Plan for 2017 has projected that there will be 24,000 fewer medical cards next year but this will be offset by 50,000 more GP visit cards.

The HSE says the expected reduction in medical cards is due to the increased number of people going back to work. 

It says the will no longer meet the full medical card income threshold.

The HSE plan for next year promises a 5% improvement in patient waiting times at emergency departments and to eliminate waiting times of over 24 hours.

The plan, published today, says the health service will have a budget of €13.9 billion for day-to-day spending next year.

The publication comes on the same day when there were 536 patients on trolleys in emergency departments, or on wards, waiting for admission to a bed this morning.

The figure, compiled by the Irish Nurses & Midwives Organisation, is among one of the highest levels this year.

The hospital worst affected was Cork University Hospital with 60 patients waiting this morning. By 3.45pm there were 19 patients on trolleys.

The HSE's service plan represents an increase of €458 million - 3.4% - on this year's funding.

Hospitals will get €4.3bn, which is an extra 2.8% in funding.

The plan warns of risks that may affect its planned level of service delivery.

These risks include increased patient demand beyond budgeted funding levels, controlling pay and staffing numbers and the ability to meet demand for new drugs.

However it says that if drug savings from a recent industry agreement exceed expectations, new drugs could be the likely priority.

The plan says that the population is increasing, along with the number of people seeking access to services and public expectations.

Funding for mental health is increased by 3% to €853m.

Along with the day-to-day funding, €439m will be available for capital projects.

The plan also notes that the HSE now manages 105,000 staff.

The HSE is to hold an open recruitment event from 28-30 December for nurses and midwives from all disciplines, who are interested in working in the Irish health service.

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HSE Director General Tony O'Brien said the executive does not plan to have a budget overrun next year.

He said there are risks to the delivery of the plan but there is no contingency fund.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Irish Patients' Association has said that while a huge amount of money has been allocated for the HSE National plan for 2017, there are huge problems in the system that have to be addressed.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Stephen McMahon said that over €27,000 a minute will be spent running the health system next year.

He added that that expenditure will be to maintain the status quo, and that there are long waiting lists, bed shortages and recruitment problems that have to be tackled.

Mr McMahon said the numbers on trolleys increased by 29% in the first nine days of this month compared to the same time last year.

Furthermore, he said that hospital consultants have a pay claim in for next year which could cost hundreds of millions.