HEALTH Minister James Reilly has confirmed to government backbenchers that a new report is recommending a break-up of the hospital network in the south-east region.
And it is also calling for the closure of one of the four hospital maternity units in Waterford, Wexford, St Luke's Hospital in Kilkenny and South Tipperary Hospital in Clonmel.
This is on the basis that three maternity units should be enough to serve the needs of the region.
In a private briefing for backbenchers, Dr Reilly confirmed that the recommendation in the yet-to-be published report was to link Waterford and South Tipperary Hospital with Cork University Hospital in Munster.
The other two hospitals in the region – Kilkenny and Wexford – would be linked to hospitals in Dublin.
Local government backbenchers fear that this would deprive Waterford of the "critical mass" of patients needed to retain its specialist cancer care services, given that Kilkenny and Waterford residents will be travelling to Dublin for such care.
But at the briefing in his ministerial office in Leinster House, Dr Reilly told local Fine Gael and Labour backbenchers that he had not yet made his final decision. He is expected to bring the report by Professor John Higgins on the re-organisation of hospital services to Cabinet within the next two weeks.
It has been billed as the most radical shake-up of hospital management structures for the past 80 years.
There will be new groupings of hospitals around the country – leading to some hospitals being downgraded while others are upgraded.
And the south-east region has already emerged as a key battleground.
The controversy has already prompted 15,000 people to march in Waterford city last year amid fears that their hospital would lose out in the forthcoming re-organisation of services.
Dr Reilly gave the confidential briefing in an attempt to deal with the concerns of backbenchers such as Fine Gael's John Paul Phelan and Paudie Coffey, who have not ruled out voting against any withdrawal of services from Waterford by the Government.
Fine Gael TD John Deasy, government chief whip Paul Kehoe and Labour TD Ciara Conway were also present.
Dr Reilly had promised that Waterford Hospital would not lose any of its services during his time in office. But government backbenchers are worried that the proposed break up of hospitals in the region will make this inevitable over time.
They are hoping that he will agree to leave the four hospitals to be governed by an independent authority rather than splitting them between two hospital groups.