Health chiefs fear that under pressure hospital emergency units will be further stretched over on St Patrick’s Day.

The celebrations this year fall on a Saturday and the HSE is warning that emergency departments at hospitals like Letterkenny’s could face significant overcrowding problems throughout the weekend.

Damien McCallion, who is the Health Service Executive's national director of emergency management, believes services could remain under pressure from St Patrick's weekend through to Easter in two weeks’ time.

He is warning that a difficult two-week period is likely.

Overcrowding was higher this year during the flu season and this was then exacerbated by Storm Emma and the continuing fallout from that extreme weather event.

There has been an eight per cent increase in attendance at hospital emergency departments (EDs) in the first three months of 2018, meaning some 15,000 extra patients presented this year than during the same period last year.

He said today: “We hope to see some improvement as we go through the week.

“We do face a difficult week and obviously we go forward in St Patrick’s weekend and two four-day weeks, so the system is going to remain under pressure for the coming period.”

He added: "If someone has a need for emergency care and a need to go to an emergency department then they should do so. We need to be very clear on that.”

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