Hospitals have struggled with an influx of patients in the past week as influenza rates increase and Mr Harris is to meet with the HSE tomorrow for an update on the situation.
The minister remained in close contact with the HSE over the weekend as a number of hospitals throughout the country continued to experience overcrowding.
The HSE’s director for emergency management, Damien McCallion, warned that hospitals could witness a return to the record level of patients on trolleys experienced last week.
“We know the next three months are going to be challenging,” said Mr McCallion. “We can’t absolutely say when certain other peaks will happen, or the number of beds closed on any particular week can change due to infection control. So we have to try and manage the current situation and deal with it.”
However, it is understood that the Department of Health is not expecting a return to the record number of 612 people on trolleys witnessed last week.
Officials expect “another difficult week because the first few weeks of January are always challenging” with high trolley numbers, but the department is confident that emergency measures will help ease the situation.
Mr Harris announced the opening of 60 transitional care beds for the next four weeks, to come on stream in the coming days.
The HSE is to make an additional 63 acute hospital beds available as part of a ramping-up of its winter plan. The health minister has also said he would be willing to replace hospital managers with external expert leaders if the trolley crisis cannot be solved.
The initiative, which is contained within the Programme for Government, would be a radical change in the healthcare system and would require legislation.
Meanwhile, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) is to meet with the Department of Health and HSE on Thursday in a bid to resolve its dispute over recruitment and retention, working conditions, and staff shortages.
In December, 90% of INMO members voted in favour of industrial action, including one-day stoppages, over the dispute. If talks fail, nurses could take strike action as early as next month.
Social Democrat and former junior health minister Róisín Shortall said the trolley crisis “demonstrates yet again that lack of vision, lack of a reforming zeal, and ultimately the lack of provision for patients’ dignity within the health system means we are condemned to repeat the same patterns year after year”.
She called for a legal entitlement to a home care package, citing a lack of respect for older people in the healthcare system as a fundamental reason for a total overhaul of the system.
“We need a fair deal for home care packages,” said Ms Shortall. “The dire shortage of home help and home care supports to enable older people to live independently in their own homes impacts unacceptably on the quality of life for our older people and puts avoidable pressures on our acute hospitals.”