This year has seen the worst-ever November on record for hospital overcrowding.

A total of 9,679 admitted patients were forced to wait on trolleys and chairs for beds last month, according to the INMO.

This is an 11pc increase on November 2017 and more than twice as bad as 2006, when the records first began.

Earlier this week, the count for 2018 crossed 100,000 for the first time ever, already making 2018 the worst-ever year for overcrowding.

INMO General Secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha expressed concern as she said that 2018 is already the worst year on record, and there are still several weeks in the year to go.

“Behind each number is a vulnerable patient suffering in poor conditions, with overworked staff pulling out all the stops to provide the best possible care,” Ms Ní Sheaghdha said.

“January and February are typically the worst months, so nurses and midwives will be looking to the new year with a sense of dread.

“But this isn’t just a winter problem anymore, it’s a year-round problem.

“The health service needs more beds. Extra beds require extra nurses, but the HSE simply can’t hire enough on these wage levels,” she added.

A total of five hospitals saw over 500 patients on trolleys in November:

The union claims that much of the overcrowding is down to understaffing, caused primarily by low pay levels in Irish nursing and midwifery. According to the HSE census, as of September 2018, Ireland’s health service has 227 fewer staff nurses than December 2017.

The numbers come as it is revealed today that a winter plan ‘tsar’ will oversee the health service’s bid to avoid chaos in hospitals in the coming months.

The idea is among measures being introduced by the HSE following the papal visit to Ireland.

A single HSE official was tasked with co-ordinating the health service’s response to the Pope’s visit in August, which included extended opening hours for primary care centres and minor injury clinics to ease pressure on hospitals.

This will be replicated in the delayed €30m winter plan along with other ‘enhanced measures’ which have been designed to avoid what has become an annual crisis in the health system.

Nine hospitals identified as “sites of concern” will be targeted. These are hospitals which have already had issues with patients on trolleys this year and over the past two winters.

They include Tallaght Hospital, the Mater and St Vincent’s hospitals in Dublin and the University Hospitals in Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford. Other aspects of the plan include ‘winter-ready’ clinics being set up in communities.

The plan lasts until March 31 with what is described as an ‘enhanced focus period’ for four weeks from December 17 to January 13. It is understood that the person co-ordinating the plan has been identified but won’t be announced until later this week.

“Introducing the winter plan this late is astounding given the warnings from politicians and doctors and nurses since August,” said Fianna Fail TD Stephen Donnelly .

Health Minister Simon Harris’ spokesperson said planning for winter had been taking place since June. She said parts of the plan, including €16m for home-care packages to help avoid hospital admissions, were already being put in place.

The Government had committed to introducing 2,600 additional beds, with 79 of these to be delivered by early 2019, she said, adding that Mr Harris was committed to reversing “years of bed closures” by Fianna Fail.

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