Minister for Health Simon Harris is to discuss the overcrowding crisis by phone conference call with each of the Hospital Group chief executives tomorrow.

In a statement, he said the system needed to research lessons that can be learned from the hospitals performing better in the area.

Mr Harris said he supports the Health Service Executive in taking any enhanced measures necessary, to increase discharges, particularly access to diagnostics, senior clinical attendance and community supports.

The level of hospital overcrowding increased to a national record of 677 patients this morning, according to the latest figures from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, up on yesterday's record of 656 patients.

The hospital worst affected was St Luke's in Kilkenny with 54 patients waiting.

University Hospital Limerick had 53 patients waiting, while Cork University Hospital also has heavy overcrowding.

Earlier, HSE figures showed there were 507 patients waiting on trolleys in hospitals around the country.

Those figures were complied at 8am by the HSE and only cover patients on trolleys, but represents an increase of yesterday's TrolleyGar figure of 457 at the same time.

The figures also show that 51 patients have been waiting on a trolley for more than 24 hours.

These figures are 6% higher compared with this day last year.

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Mr Harris sad that it is "vital" to see an impact from the "exceptional measures" being undertaken to reduce overcrowding in emergency departments.

In a statement, the minister said that while "there is no one-size-fits-all solution, we must continue to ensure the lessons that can be learned from those hospitals performing better are applied across the system."

Last night, Mr Harris said "no effort or resource is being spared to improve the situation" in the health service.

The HSE said it expects the amount of influenza cases to peak in about two weeks and the situation to ease.

Charles Normand, Professor of Health Policy and Management at Dublin's Trinity College, said some hospitals were managing the situation better than others.

He said that while most countries in Western Europe have problems with overcrowding, the situation here on average is a lot worse.

The answer he said is to increase bed capacity but also to properly manage the existing capacity.

INMO Secretary General Phil Ni Sheaghdha has called for an urgent meeting of the Emergency Department Task Force to discuss the overcrowding crisis.

That call has also been supported by the Irish Patients’ Association, which is also part of the group.

The last meeting of the Task Force was in early December.

The INMO also wants patients diverted from hospitals that are having major difficulty coping to less busy acute hospitals.

The National Director of Acute Services with the HSE has said about 465 patients may be in a position to be discharged from hospitals today.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Liam Woods said the HSE was working with community services to facilitate as many people as possible.

Mr Woods said the hospital system comes under stress on the day after New Year's Day annually as patients return.

He said that up to that point hospitals are running below full capacity.

Mr Woods also said that some hospitals are performing better than others, with larger hospitals better able to recover from surges in patient numbers.