A "major internal incident" has been declared at University Hospital Limerick due to "record high attendances" at the hospital's emergency department.

In a statement today, the UL Hospital group said the "unprecedented" number of people attending the ED has been driven by a surge in respiratory infections, including Covid-19, flu and RSV.

Extra staff have been asked to present at UHL for work, while other staff are being redeployed to the emergency department to care for additional patients.

All out-patient appointments for UHL have been cancelled for tomorrow, Tuesday, 3 January, while only urgent elective surgeries will go ahead at the hospital "over the coming days".

Other steps being taken to deal with the volume of patients include the opening of extra "surge beds" in Ennis, Nenagh and St John's hospitals, while "day beds" in UHL are being converted into in-patient beds.

The hospital said that patients with "less urgent" conditions presenting at the emergency department today will face an "exceptionally long wait for care" and has urged the public to first consider injury units, GPs and out of hours GP services before attending.

"We apologise to every patient who is currently experiencing a long wait for admission at UHL, and for the inconvenience and frustration this causes for patients' loved ones," it said.

Visiting restrictions have also been imposed at UHL due to the "high number of patients with flu and Covid-19, and a number of ongoing outbreaks".

"We regret the distress or inconvenience our visiting ban causes for patients and their loved ones, but it is necessary given the high levels of flu and Covid-19."

The only exceptions to the ban are as follows:

- Parents visiting children in hospital

- People assisting confused patients (e.g. dementia)

- People visiting patients who are critically unwell or at end of life (on a case-by-case basis)

- All these exemptions are limited to one person per patient only.

Earlier today, ambulance by-pass protocols were activated to support UHL's response to the major incident.

For a number of hours, non-critical patients being transported by the National Ambulance Service were diverted to the closest alternative appropriate hospital.

However, UHL said that the most critically ill patients, for example those with a suspected heart attack and stroke, continued to be brought to UHL during that time.