There were 649 patients on trolleys and in wards this morning

The Minister for Health has cancelled his St Patrick’s Day trip to Belgium and the Netherlands due to the ongoing hospital trolley crisis.

The number of patients waiting on trolleys eased slightly today after yesterday’s record high of 714.

However there was little sign of the crisis abating, with 649 people on trolleys and in wards this morning according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO).

In a tweet this evening Health Minister Simon Harris said it “wouldn’t feel right” to travel during what is a “difficult week.”

The HSE has pointed to backlogs caused by Storm Emma as well as a longer than expected flu season as reasons for this year’s extended overcrowding crisis.

The numbers waiting on trolleys today dwarf the 392 patients waiting for treatment this time last year.

Speaking in the US last night, Leo Varadkar said it was “not entirely clear” why the situation had deteriorated so far this year – however, the Irish Medical Organisation has expressed its surprise at the comments.

IMO vice president Dr Peadar Gilligan said it is the result of “years of cuts and austerity in health services” adding that the Government “cannot continue to promise better services while at the same time refuse to fund them.”