Update 9.47pm: The Health Minister has said we will need thousands more hospital beds over the coming years.
Simon Harris apologised today for the trolley crisis which has seen a record number of patients waiting for beds this week.
The INMO says the figure has dropped to 592 today after a high of 677 on trolleys yesterday.
Minister Harris said progress is being made despite the figures.
"I've put in place the bed capacity review. That's almost ready now and I hope to bring that to Government in the next few weeks and feed it into the capital plan so we can genuinely put more beds into the health service in 2018," he said.
"We will need thousands more beds over the next number of years," Minister Harris added.
"We now have the Sláintecare Report, we didn't have that last winter and it asked me to work on an implementation plan - that's almost ready, as well," he said.
In relation to GP contracts, he said he now has permission from Government to enter talks on unwinding FEMPI, the pay cuts that GPs took during the recession.
Update 5.24pm: Simon Harris 'committed to breaking the cycle of overcrowding'
The Health Minister has said he is "committed to breaking the cycle of overcrowding in the health service".
Minister Simon Harris said he today held a teleconference with the chief executives of the country's hospitals to discuss the problems for staff and patients.
He said he thanked them for their work and the work of hospital staff.
"I [...] stressed the importance of having clinical decision makers in place in hospitals at key times to increase patient flow through the EDs," he said.
He said he asked to them ensure all beds that can be opened were opened and that availability of diagnostic services be increased.
"I also asked them to [...] continue to work to reduce the number of people who are in hospital, but could be discharged into the community.
"I assured the hospital group CEOs that all necessary resources will be made available to allow them in the coming days and weeks," Minister Harris added.
He echoed the sentiments expressed by the HSE Assistant National Director of Health Protection when he asked people to listen to public health messages and stay at home if they are ill.
"I am pursuing three priorities in 2018 – increasing bed capacity using evidence provided by the bed capacity review, implementing reform through Sláintecare and increasing services provided through Primary Care by negotiating a new GP contract,” he said.
Update 2.45pm: Simon Harris apologises to those waiting on trolleys
The Health Minister has apologised to the hundreds of patients waiting on trolleys this week.
The Flu season has yet to peak, with a particularly troublesome strain being seen in hospitals, this time affecting children as well.
Minister Simon Harris says he's concerned about back to school next week.
He said: "We're obviously coming up to a situation where schools resume next week; I am worried about the spread of the flu when kids go back to school.
"We're seeing a strain of flu that is affecting children this year, we didn't see last year, so I would advise parents if your child is under the weather please keep them home from school next week.
"It is important if you have the flu in general, try not to spread it. Stay at home , take advise on undertheweather.ie, consult your pharmacist or consult your GP.
Don't go to the ED unless advised to do so by a medical professional."
Earlier: The hospital overcrowding crisis has eased slightly, with fewer than 600 people on trolleys and chairs waiting for a bed.
According to the latest report from nurses, there were 592 patients in queues in A&E departments and in ward corridors.
The Irish Nurses’ and Midwives’ Organisation (INMO) said University Hospital Limerick had the worst record on Thursday morning, with 52 patients waiting for a bed.
Others with high levels of overcrowding included St Luke’s Hospital in Kilkenny with 46 people on trolleys; the Midland Regional Hospital in Tullamore with 37; and Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, and the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar, which both had 31.
The INMO said its headcount found 414 people on trolleys in A&E units and 178 waiting in corridors around wards.
The latest figures were being released as health chiefs met to discuss initiatives to relive the unprecedented crisis.
The demand for access to hospital beds is traditionally at its peak in the first week of January, with the flu season compounding stretched resources.