The Government has been warned that the impact of the Omicron wave on hospital waiting lists may take years to address.
Ministers have been told that hospital waiting lists, which were already under pressure, have been "adversely impacted" by emergency pressures and staff absences in recent weeks.
The Health Service Executive has undertaken to “intensify” efforts to address backlogs caused by staff absences due to Covid, which rose steeply after Christmas, according to a confidential memo given to Cabinet on Friday, The Irish Times reports.
High-level plans to deal with waiting lists were drawn up last year, and while progress has been made, Ministers were told that the situation has been worsened by emergency pressures and staff absences.
Staff absences have receded somewhat with the peak of the Omicron wave now over and new close contact rules, however, Cabinet has been warned that levels are still "significantly above" the norm.
On Sunday, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said the health service had been left with a “mammoth” task to deal with the non-Covid care backlog.
In a statement, the HSE said long waiting lists were a “legacy, systemic issue” and “it will take a number of years to bring waiting times down to the levels envisaged in Sláintecare.
“Waiting lists have been made worse by Covid-19 as we had to cancel so much scheduled activity to keep patients safe, and then further impacted by the damaging cyberattack this past summer.”
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has called for a full public inquiry into the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A Government spokesman insisted no final decisions had been made regarding the structure of an inquiry or review into the State’s handling of the Covid pandemic.
On Sunday, reports suggested that an expert group, rather than a commission of inquiry or special Oireachtas committee, would be in charge of the review.