The Tánaiste has defended the Government's action in dealing with hospital waiting lists.

Frances Fitzgerald said the Government accepted that it is a huge challenge but she added dealing with the problem is "an absolute priority".

She was responding to Fianna Fáil Health Spokesperson Billy Kelleher, who said during Leaders' Questions in the Dáil 684,000 people are now on waiting lists for various reasons.

The figures from the National Treatment Purchase Fund for October are up by about 6,000 patients, compared with the 678,800 national total for the previous month.

He accused the Government of spin and he said the solution of Fine Gael ministers and TDs was to deliver leaflets across the country to advise constituents how to get treatment outside the jurisdiction.

Mr Kelleher noted that a 91-year-old man had to travel from west Cork to Belfast for a cataract operation, because he had to wait so long.

The Tánaiste said every effort was being made to deal with waiting lists and the trend was going in the right direction.

However, she said the Government accepted that people were waiting too long.

She also questioned if Mr Kelleher was suggesting the Government should not be telling people of their rights as EU citizens in relation to receiving treatment in other jurisdictions.

"We care very much as you do for people on waiting lists," she said.