The Department of Health has said that phased implementation of Regional Health Areas will begin next year and will be formally adopted early in 2024.

There will be six new regions created and the new structure has been described as an essential part of Sláintecare.

The department is promising the new geographical alignment will happen "with minimal disruption" and the structural change will be as simple as possible.

It says most of the health budget will be deployed to the regions, but work will have to be done to decide how much will be retained by the HSE centre; possibly around 10 to 15%.

Work also has to be done on whether specialist services which treat patients from across Ireland will be funded nationally, or if there will be an exchange mechanism where regional health areas claim payment for treating patients from outside their area.

Asked if the new Regional Health Areas will cut waiting times in emergency departments or shorten waiting lists, officials replied that there would be no point in implementing them if they do not improve outcomes for patients, but there are many reasons why people have had to wait for treatment and they will have to be addressed in a variety of ways.

Officials at a briefing with journalists promised the new structures will bring improvements in accountability and help to address the issues of recruiting and retaining staff.

Read more:
Rise in assaults on nurses 'no surprise' - INMO president
Hospital overcrowding worse now than any time before: INMO