Health Minister Leo Varadkar has told hospital managers to give public patients attending outpatients' clinics an individual appointment time and end the unpopular system of block booking.
The minister, who met 50 hospital chiefs in Farmleigh yesterday, also insisted they enforce staff hand-washing rules between seeing patients. This "cost nothing", he said, but was essential to infection control.
Many clinics still operate a block booking system, which can leave patients waiting for hours. But doctors said it was necessary because of the high numbers who failed to turn up.
But, speaking after the private meeting, the minister said: "A lot of people complain they don't get a proper appointment time and I have asked the hospital managers to make sure guidelines are enforced."
Referring to hand-washing he insisted: "It's important that we do a lot more of that and get it right in hospitals."
He added: "We talked about budgets and the need to keep spending under control. But we also spoke about the importance of the patient experience and practical things that can make a difference."
He is to host another gathering of around 200 representatives from health organisations, unions and state agencies in the Aviva stadium today.
The exercise is aimed at getting views on what is working well, how things can be done differently and financing services.
Meanwhile, Tony O'Brien, head of the HSE, told a conference yesterday that the health service was left with little room for manoeuvre when it comes to investment - even when it could improve patient outcomes and save money.
The ESRI conference was discussing its new research report showing a plan to provide stroke rehabilitation in the community.
It would benefit 3,000 patients, many of whom face a poor service after hospital discharge. It would save hospitals up to €7m a year.
The HSE chief said he would have to close hospital beds if he were to implement the plan in the short-term. More therapists would have to be hired. The health service must "save" before it can invest in new services, he said.
The only way to get the €5m to €10m needed to hire the therapists would be to close beds and this is not possible because they are needed by stroke patients.
Such a plan would take considerable time to roll out. "In most walks of life you invest in order to save. We have to first save before we invest," he added.
Updated financial reports to be published this week will show hospitals are deeply in the red and failing to meet targets for public patients on waiting lists for operations.
He said the numbers of patients turning up to A&E departments was rising dramatically.
Hospitals are still heavily reliant on expensive agency doctors and nurses.
The hope is that the increased starting salaries for hospital consultants will mean they can recruit more full-time medics and cut down on agency doctors.
Commenting on Mr Varadkar's call for improvements in food served to patients, Mr O'Brien said many hospitals had made very good improvements and were an example to others which were performing less well.
MEMBERS of the public are invited to attend a series of evening meetings to be held around the country to air their experience of the health service and how they want to see it improved.
The meetings, which begin tonight at the South Court Hotel, Limerick, at 7pm, are organised by the Patients First Campaign, made up of bodies such as the Irish Patients' Association, Patient Opinion, the Irish Medical Organisation and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.
The meetings will be held in Galway, Navan, Co Meath, Letterkenny, Co Donegal, Cork, and Tallaght and Blanchardstown in Dublin.
Spokesman Stephen McMahon said public representatives would also be invited and Health Minister Leo Varadkar had been asked to attend the meeting in Blanchardstown in his constituency.
The purpose is to give people a forum to air their views on the health service amid evidence that many are reluctant to make formal complaints.
The pre-Budget gatherings are aimed at building a momentum to give a "voice to the voiceless", Mr McMahon said.
Hilary Dunne of Patient Opinion said there had been a consistent failure in the health system to learn from experiences.
More information is available at www.patientsfirst.ie or on (01) 664 0600.