Patients who meet suitable medical criteria can now be brought directly by ambulance to a medical assessment unit at Nenagh Hospital in Co Tipperary, in an effort to avoid attending the emergency department at University Hospital Limerick, which is one of the most overcrowded in the country.

In a statement, the UL hospital group said that the medical assessment pathway for 999/112 patients with certain medical conditions has begun at Nenagh Hospital.

They must meet strict medical criteria and can only be confirmed as suitable for the MAU and not the emergency department at UHL following a consultation between the paramedic and the MAU doctor.

It follows the introduction of a similar ambulance protocol for certain patients at Ennis Hospital a month ago on 9 January.

The group said this pathway will result in patients receiving medical treatment in a hospital closer to their home, will reduce patient presentations to emergency departments and will release ambulances more quickly to respond to other emergency calls.

999 emergency patients who are not suitable for this pathway will continue to be brought directly to the emergency department at UHL.