Latest: Tackling overcrowding and supporting older people are some of the main targets of the HSE’s winter plan.
The €30 million plan, which has just been published, will run from December to March with particular focus from December 17 to January 13.
As part of the plan an extra 75 acute beds will come on stream at nine hospitals around the country.
Included in the plan is Support for Community and Acute Operations including:
Speaking following the launch of the plan, Minister for Health Simon Harris said: "Overcrowding in Emergency Departments causes significant distress to patients, their families and front-line staff working in very challenging conditions in hospitals throughout the country.
“While the coming months will be very challenging, this plan represents a system wide response to this challenge across the health service.
"It will be led at national and local level by integrated teams representing community and hospital services.”
The Minister said that the HSE is building on learnings from previous winters and the success in handling major events this year.
Meanwhile, the INMO has welcomed the "the start of long-awaited consultation" on the plan.
It flagged its disappointment that the plan "does not significantly increase health service capacity or deal with understaffing".
INMO Director of Industrial Relations Tony Fitzpatrick said: “Overcrowding isn’t just a winter problem anymore, hospitals are over capacity every day of every season, and the problem is getting worse.
“It’s clear from our initial consultation that the draft Winter Plan will not increase capacity at all this year and only modestly next year.
“The government accept that we need to grow the health service’s capacity, but extra beds require extra nurses.
"Without addressing pay, our health service will simply not be able to attract enough nurses and midwives.”
The HSE has been criticised for taking an "emergency plan" approach to getting through winter.
It is launching the strategy this morning for how the health service will operate during the winter months when there is expected to be an increase in demand.
Anthony Staines, Professor of Health Systems at DCU, says there needs to be a more long-term approach.
"The plan duration seems to be very short, they are talking about a four-week plan," said Prof Staines.
"If I look even at the trolley figures, they have been going up in October and November and they are now higher yet in December.
"So that suggests that we should have had the winter plan a bit earlier.
"We really need to get away from this notion of emergency planning for winter, it has to be built into the whole system."
According to today's, INMO Trolley Watch there are 438 patients waiting for hospital beds this morning.
Of these, 314 are waiting in the emergency department while 124 are in wards elsewhere in the hospital.
University Hospital Limerick is the worst hit with 54 patients followed by University Hospital Galway with 49 patients and Cork University Hospital with 32 patients.
Meanwhile, newly released figures show that around 47,000 people have been on outpatient waiting lists for more than two years.
Over 9,000 are waiting longer than three years.
The numbers were released on foot of a parliamentary question from Fianna Fáil Health Spokesperson Stephen Donnelly.
Hospitals in Dublin, Mayo and Waterford are worst affected.
Deputy Donnelly said non-acute patients are being "left high and dry" by a system that cannot cope with demand.