Doctors have given a cautious welcome to news that University Hospital Waterford is to get a mobile cath lab to treat cardiac patients.
Waterford hospital specialists Rob Landers and Patrick Owens have yet to receive details of the mobile unit which was part of a surprise announcement by Independent Alliance Minister John Halligan yesterday morning.
Key information about the unit - which aims to defuse the row over the refusal to build a second cath lab in the hospital - was even unavailable to the hospital.
However, the doctors, who had requested the mobile unit, said they hoped it would help cut the waiting list of around 700 patients, many of whom are waiting two years for vital heart procedures such as angioplasty.
Mr Halligan threatened to resign last year after an independent review failed to recommend a second cath lab for his local hospital, despite it being an original condition of his support for the Government. Despite his threats, Mr Halligan remained as Minister of State for Training, Skills and Innovation.
Mr Halligan said yesterday that agreement on the mobile lab was reached late on Thursday night following sometimes "hair-raising" negotiations between the Independent Alliance and Health Minister Simon Harris.
"It is a step forward but is not designed as an alternative to a permanent second cath lab," he added.
The news comes in advance of pressure being piled on Mr Halligan today at a march in Waterford in protest at the failure to deliver a second permanent unit.
It is also planned to send more than 300 patients from the backlog in Waterford hospital to Cork for treatment in a bid to clear the list.
Dr Landers warned yesterday the condition of some of these patients who were on the waiting list had now deteriorated and some needed a procedure within 10 days.
"We are hoping that this mobile unit will show the need for a second permanent lab," he added. Doctors in Waterford said they would provide the additional hours to staff the unit in order to try to clear the list.
The Department of Health was unable to say when it will be in place or if it will be exclusive to Waterford Hospital.
A spokesman said the minister was considering a national cardiology waiting list initiative. "This will address waiting times for cardiology treatments in a number of hospitals including Waterford.
"A range of measures are envisaged including sharing of facilities and resources amongst public hospitals, use of private facilities and the deployment of a mobile cath lab. Further detail will be available in the coming weeks," they said.
The South East Patient Advocacy Group, which is organising today's march, described the mobile unit as only a paltry offer and a "temporary solution to a permanent problem".
Spokeswoman Yvonne Cooney said: "The south-east region still needs 24/7 cardiac care as 500,000 people will still be at risk. We have been down this road before with broken promises."