The Minister for Health has been given Cabinet approval for his plan to introduce Regional Health Areas - a key element of the Sláintecare reform programme.

The six Regional Health Areas (RHAs) are designed to align hospital and community healthcare services, with a defined population and their individual local needs.

Mr Donnelly said the RHAs will ensure "the alignment of hospital and community healthcare services at a regional level, based on defined populations and their local needs which delivers on the Sláintecare vision of an integrated health and social care service."

The aim is to deliver a community-first model by devolving responsibility for decision-making to the regions, with RHAs being introduced on a phased basis in 2023 and becoming fully operational the following year.

Minister Donnelly said the bill is one of the "really important changes" they are making to improve the public health system.

RHA's must 'act quickly' to tackle waiting lists and overcrowding

Sinn Féin spokesperson on Health David Cullinane said the planned Regional Health Areas need to be able to act quickly to tackle issues such as long waiting lists and hospital overcrowding.

He said that RHAs need to "usher in a new culture of transparency and accountability in healthcare with fewer management layers and accountable autonomy".

Deputy Cullinane said: "The Department and the HSE are on the record favouring a minimal structural change approach, with corporate functions retained at the centre. That is not what was agreed for healthcare reform."

He added that more detail on the Minister's plan is required.