HEALTH Minister James Reilly has given a guarantee to rebellious backbenchers that there will be no cuts to services in Waterford Regional Hospital.
Around 15,000 people marched in Waterford city last weekend amid fears that the hospital would lose out in the forthcoming reorganisation of services.
Fine Gael backbenchers John Paul Phelan and Paudie Coffey had not ruled out voting against any withdrawal of services by the Government.
But in a private meeting with TDs and doctors, Dr Reilly said the hospital would not lose any of its existing services to other hospitals.
However, he did not give any guarantee that Waterford hospital would not be "downgraded" from a level-four regional hospital.
The meeting, in Dr Reilly's office in Leinster House yesterday, was attended by TDs and senators from Waterford and Kilkenny as well as local hospital consultants.
Independent TD John Halligan said some people had to stand because so many were packed into the room.
Dr Reilly has been under pressure to claw back the €400m overspend in the health budget. The latest figures show a slight improvement, with the HSE expected to end up with a deficit of €253m this year.
The HSE is expecting a transfer of funds from the Department of Health, while it will also secure income from insurance companies which are to provide an upfront payment of €125m. Other savings will come from unspent funds earmarked for mental health and primary care staff.
But in the Dail yesterday the focus was on the future of Waterford Regional, with four local TDs demanding reassurances. Junior minister Fergus O'Dowd said: "With specific reg-ard to Wat-erford, the intention is that the hospital will retain its current services, including basic cardiology as well as trauma and cancer services. That's an absolute commitment."
Mr Halligan said the "dogs in the street" believed the Government's expert group was going to recommend a break-up of the southeast hospital network. "We will not tolerate an erosion of our services," he said.
He was speaking on a cross-party basis with Mr Coffey and Mr Phelan, as well as Labour TD Ciara Conway.
Ms Conway warned against making any cuts to the hospital, which she described as one of the most efficient in the country.
Dr Reilly is not due to get the key report on reorganising the national hospital network until later this month.
Prepared by Prof John Higgins, it is expected to recommend that smaller hospitals be downgraded and grouped with larger ones nationwide.