The President of the Irish Hospital Consultants' Association has said the current situation in Ireland's acute hospitals "is truly a national emergency".

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Professor Alan Irvine said that "the acute hospital system is under the greatest pressure that it's ever been in living memory". 

He said 1,000 people have been admitted with Covid-related illnesses to acute hospitals since 2 January and these admissions are doubling, in both intensive care and general acute beds, every week. 

Prof Irvine warned that if the admissions continue to double in a week and double again the week after that, "the system really will not be able to cope, so it's truly an emergency in the acute health system". 

The Health Service Executive's latest figures puts the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in hospital at 1,575.

The number of patients in ICUs has increased to 146. 

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Prof Irvine said if this trajectory continues, "there's no doubt that all of the surge capacity that's been identified, the 350 ICU beds for example, all of that will be used and even that will not be enough".

Prof Irvine said the system has 289 ICU beds and there were fewer that 40 of those available this morning, adding that they will "probably be filled in the next day or two and then we'll into surge capacity scenario".

He said people should "be under no illusions, we're having a very difficult, challenging, sad and stressful time over these next two to three weeks". 

In relation to vaccinations, Prof Irvine said as soon as the vaccine arrives in the acute hospitals, "the programmes have been excellent, largely nurse-led and it's been rolled out in an extraordinarily efficient way".

The CEO of the HSE, Paul Reid, has said that hospitals are now "beyond strain". In an appeal for people to protect healthcare workers by staying at home, Mr Reid tweeted: "the situation in our hospitals is now beyond strain."

The Chief Clinical Director of the UL Hospitals Group said it will be "only be a matter of days", before surge capacity will be required in Limerick.

Speaking on the same programme, Professor Brian Lenehan said that at both a national and local level, the system is the middle of a significant crisis. 

He said surge capacity in Limerick would mean using the additional day ward beds in St John's Hospital, Ennis Hospital, Nenagh General Hospital, University Hospital Limerick and also Croom Orthopaedic Hospital, which was used during the first phase of the pandemic surge as a medical hospital for patients who did not require acute care in the Model 4 hospitals. 

Meanwhile, ICU consultant at University Hospital Galway, Dr John Bates, said the hospital is under huge pressure, with four times the number of patients with coronavirus today, than at the height of the last peak.

He said things were progressing at a rate that was very hard to predict and that there had been no tangible impact yet from enhanced public health restrictions, introduced after Christmas. 

Dr Bates said he would have hoped to have seen a levelling off in the number of people needing hospital treatment by now but there was no evidence of a slowdown at this stage.

He said there would need to be some sign of the curve being crushed in the coming days, to ensure society was getting some grip on the infection. 

'Grim and worrying' pressure on ICUs, warns consultant 

Earlier today, a consultant in intensive care medicine at Dublin's Beaumont Hospital said the pressure on critical care is "grim and worrying".

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Dr Michael Power said some hospitals have contacted other facilities and activated the mobile intensive care ambulance service transport to transfer patients from one hospital to another to alleviate pressure. 

He said there is an initiative across the acute hospital system to step-down scheduled surgery, except for emergency and time critical cancer surgery, which will increase the surge capacity from 292 to 350. 

Suggestions of rationing critical care do not apply at the moment, he said. 

Dr Andrew Westbrook, ICU Consultant in St Vincent's Hospital, said the health system is about to enter a phase "the likes of which we have never seen before in Ireland".

He said that given the number of hospital patients, ICUs have not seen the peak yet and if the number of patients presenting to hospital continue, then "there will be a tsunami of patients presenting to intensive care".

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, he said Ireland could be facing scenes like those seen in Lombardy and New York last year.

Significant increase in admissions to hospitals in northeast

Latest available figures show that there has been a significant increase in the number of Covid-19 patients admitted to hospitals in the northeast in the past week.

Figures from the HSE show that the number of Covid-19 patients has more than doubled at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda since last Monday.

97 Covid patients are now being treated at the hospital, compared to 46 last Monday. Of the 97 patients, six are in the critical care unit. 

In Cavan General Hospital, there has also been significant rise in Covid-19 cases. 

Figures show that 52 patients are now being treated at the hospital compared to 21 last Monday. Of the 52 patients, two are in the critical care unit.