Non-urgent services are being curtailed at hospitals around Ireland to prevent them from being overwhelmed by the third wave of Covid-19 that is sweeping Ireland.
The HSE's Chief Executive Paul Reid made the admission that the non-urgent services are being ceased because of the pressure expected from the big rise in Covid-19 cases.
He said on Monday, January 4 work will be done with hospital groups to prioritise urgent care. He said this will help build capacity and reduce footfall.
Mr Reid said about 3,000 HSE staff are not at work because they have Covid-19 or are a close contact. He added that GPs are swamped.
The CEO said there could soon be up to 2,500 Covid-19 cases in hospital. ICU admissions could reach over 400 putting critical care units at high and extreme risk.
Cancelling non-urgent care would mean elective surgery and diagnostics would be postponed.
A huge amount of hospital activity was brought to a standstill during the first wave of the virus in 2020.
Latest figures showed 744 in hospitals with Covid-19.
The HSE says 118,177 tests have been carried out in the past seven days. The HSE has ramped up testing capacity to 175,000 a week but has stopped testing close contacts.
Nurses have already said hospitals are under extreme pressure while Siptu say health care staff are exhausted.