Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said senior medical staff in Cork University Hospital (CUH) told him that they expect patients to die as a result of overcrowding in the emergency department.

He was speaking after the Irish Nurses and Midwives Association (INMA) said that 649 patients were on hospital trolleys this morning.

Yesterday, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation described hospital overcrowding as "obscene" after it recorded 679 patients waiting for a bed – the second highest recorded.

Today's figures were raised in Leaders' Questions with the Taoiseach telling the Dáil that emergency departments are "very overcrowded today and have been for some time now".

He said there has been a reduction in overcrowding since yesterday and expects that reduction to continue over the weekend.

Mr Martin told the Dáil that Government's response was "robotic and detached" and that a "fundamental reflection and rethink" is needed on how the Government is approaching this crisis.

He said there is a "huge disconnect" between what the Government is saying about addressing the overcrowding problem and "the reality being experienced by doctors and nurses on the frontline in hospitals and by patients and their families".

Mr Martin said there are a thousand front line posts that have not been filled and that the Association of Emergency Medicine estimates that 350 to 400 excess deaths are occurring each year as a result of overcrowding.

"This was confirmed to me by experienced medical authorities in CUH who reluctantly said to me: 'we have to confirm and we have to admit that people who attend CUH, that some will die as a result of the overcrowding and the delayed treatment.'"

Leo Varadkar told the Fianna Fáil leader that his "self-righteousness knows no limits", and said he was a member of a Government that reduced the number of hospital beds.

"So you should be off your high horse when it comes to this one," Mr Varadkar said.