THE Government is to spend up to €10m in eastern area hospitals to tackle waiting lists.
Patient waiting lists are topping 400,000 nationally and Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has pledged to reduce wait times by any means necessary.
Now the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) Hospital Group, which includes Beaumont Hospital, Connolly Hospital and Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, will outsource treatment in three areas.
The group is seeking outside contractors to provide ear, nose and throat services, dermatology services and endoscopies.
There are currently 54,222 people waiting for appointments across these seven hospitals.
On this list more than 38,000 people are waiting for more than six months according to data compiled by the National Treatment Purchase Fund.
Around the country the longest waiting lists are for people awaiting general surgery and to see doctors who specialise in orthopaedics, ENT and dermatology.
Minister Varadkar has mandated that the HSE ensures that no outpatient will wait longer than 18 months for an appointment by June.
He hopes to see this reduced to 15 months by the year's end.
For inpatients and day cases the national target set by the Department of Health is that no patient will wait longer than eight months.
The Fine Gael minister's targets are less ambitious than his predecessor, Dr James' Reilly, who vowed to reduce outpatient wait times to 12 months.
The Dublin TD said that "most of the backlog could be dealt with by using space in hospitals that is not being used to capacity at the moment".
However he indicated that the Government would consider sending patients to the North to tackle the problem.
He has also said that private hospitals may be used to free up the lists.
The RCSI group is looking to award contracts over the next four years through a public tendering process.
The hospital group has said that one of their principal objectives is to "improve patient access and to reduce waiting times".
According to the information published by Beaumont on behalf of the hospital group the contract's estimated cost, excluding VAT, could range between €2m and €10m.