Minister of State Hildegarde Naughton has said the Cabinet has given Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly authorisation to re-allocate funding from areas of underspend in an effort to reduce hospital waiting lists between now and Christmas.
The minister was responding to the President of the Irish Hospital Consultants' Association, who said it is projected that there will be a million people on hospital waiting lists by the end of the year.
Speaking on RTÉ's Katie Hannon programme, Professor Alan Irvine said a "massive upscaling of capacity" is needed urgently to address the issue, with over 700 empty consultant posts empty and Ireland having the lowest number of hospital beds in Europe.
He said the specialist posts need to be be filled and supported with beds, theatres, out patients clinics, administrative support and healthcare professionals 'to provide timely and safe care'
Minster Naughton said Minister Donnelly is also putting in place a waiting list taskforce to develop plans for individual hospitals to reduce wait times.
Prof Irvine said the waiting lists which have built up over a decade have been compounded by the displacement of care as a result of Covid-19 and by the cyber attack on the Health Service Executive.
He said it is expected that 500,000 referrals will be received this year and only 390,000 will be seen.
Prof Irvine said this "reflects that capacity is not meeting the demand" and results in people's care being delayed and presenting with more advanced conditions, which increases the time and costs needed to address the demand.
He said said if the health service ran at 105% of pre pandemic levels, it would take 14 years to clear the backlog and there is an overflow of incoming patients as a result of more people presenting to primary care and emergency departments.
Prof Irvine said the IHCA conference, which takes places today, highlights the difficulties in recruiting and retaining consultants.
He said Ireland is "not an attractive option for trainees" and that nine out of ten of them are considering not working in the public system.
Sinn Féin's Health spokesperson David Cullinane said the high wait times are "scandalous" and that many people who are going to emergency departments could be assessed outside of the hospital.
He said that Sinn Féin's alternative budget allocates €1.4 billion to health spending this year, roughly half for capital and half for more beds, staff and to address capacity, including in community services.
He said that consultants need more beds, diagnostics and surgical and theatre equipment.
Deputy Cullinane said his party wants to build a healthcare system that attracts people to work there and that people need to know they are valued in their work.