The President of the Irish Medical Organisation has warned of a medical manpower crisis that is being exacerbated by the delayed presentation of patients who were not treated during the pandemic.
Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Dr Ina Kelly said it would be "shocking" if scaling back services in the health system, as called for by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation yesterday, was the only solution to the overcrowding in hospitals, when people who cannot wait any longer are now presenting for care.
In a statement issued yesterday, Phil Ní Sheaghdha said: "The HSE need a laser-like focus on hospitals to get overcrowding figures down. That means scaling back services in badly hit hospitals, taking on extra capacity from private hospitals, and supporting GPs to return to their normal clinical work."
Dr Ina Kelly said cutting back services is "a dangerous solution" and the lack of capacity in the health system is an ongoing issue and one that made lockdowns stricter in Ireland due to capacity concerns.
She said there are still not enough hospital beds and not enough doctors in Ireland, with thousands of consultant posts vacant and general practices struggling and in need of more support.
She said the manpower crisis has worsened since 2012, when consultant pay became "unequal" and this made it unattractive for doctors to stay in the system or return from training abroad.
As a result, she said that "people are working harder and longer" and there is a concern about the situation this winter.
Dr Kelly said it is very concerning to see overcrowding in hospitals as Covid-19 has not gone away and new variants may emerge.
She said the winter may see more respiratory viruses spread as people travel and move around more.
She said the problem has been going on for years and that investment is not matching the needs of the sector, with a growing and ageing population.
"It's going to be a very challenging winter for acute hospitals and GPs, who are incredibly exhausted and working longer hours than they should have".
Meanwhile, there were 369 patients waiting for admission to a hospital bed, according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.
Of these, 298 patients are in emergency departments and 71 patients are elsewhere in hospitals, waiting for admission to a bed.
It represents a reduction of 16 patients compared with yesterday's figure.
The hospital worst affected by overcrowding in its emergency department is University Hospital Galway, with 32 patients waiting.
The Health Service Executive figures for overcrowding put the overall number lower at 279.
Its figures represent a 121% increase on the same time last year.
Additional reporting Fergal Bowers