Minister for Health Simon Harris has said there is a difference between predictable and avoidable hospital overcrowding and achieving avoidable overcrowding will not be done in any one year's winter plan.

Speaking at the Joint Committee on Health, Mr Harris said that no one in Government or the Health Service Executive is claiming that the difficulties that arise immediately after New Year are unpredictable.

He said that detailed plans and extra resources were in place but the system still encountered a surge that was extremely challenging.

Mr Harris said that at the end of December there had been 2,517 fewer patients waiting on trolleys in 2017, compared to 2016.

He said there are signals that the system is seeing incremental improvement.

The Minister said that since January, there had been a rise of 8.4% in the number of patients waiting on trolleys.

It reflected an increase in the number of patients attending emergency departments and the impact of flu.

Mr Harris said that both considerable reform and extra capacity were needed to reduce overcrowding.

There were 580 patients waiting for access to a hospital bed on trolleys and wards nationwide this morning, according to figures from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Association.

The figures is down from yesterday, when 594 people were waiting for beds.

Cork University Hospital is once again the worst-affected hospital with 58 people waiting.

Meanwhile, the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said that revelations in Monday's Irish Times by Martin Wall based on a Freedom on Information request on correspondence between the Government and the HSE confirmed that  there was a fundamental lack of transparency in terms of health spending.

Mr Martin said there was a clear attempt by Government to cover up the truth.

He said the Government had published a spending plan for health in the full knowledge that it would not be sufficient and there was an attempt to paper over the gaps and hide the truth from the public.

He said in the days after the publication of a plan for €346m in value for money savings, HSE directors had said the targets would not be met.

He said millions of euro in other challenges faced the HSE but the Government clearly wanted the difficulties played down in the plan.

He said what the HSE was being tod was to "bury the negative stuff as effectively as you can".

He said there were further revelations in relation to Slainte care where  he said there was a fundamental lack of commitment.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the 2018 national service plan set out a budget of almost €15bn for the HSE - and represented an increase of over €600m on 2017.

He said Ireland was in the top five in terms of per-capita spending on health.

He said a number of actions were underway in terms of turning Slaitecare into an implementation plan which he hoped would be ready in the next couple of months.

He said the capacity review had also been completed, which would feed into the ten-year infrastructure investment plan that will be published in the next couple of weeks.