CONCERNS are growing over patient care ahead of plans to carve up the hospital system into six national groups.
Health Minister James Reilly is due to press ahead with a long-awaited announcement that hospitals are to be grouped together in different regions for the first time.
However, leaked details of the re-organisation have sparked concern about how patients will be affected.
The board of the Rotunda Maternity Hospital in Dublin has told Dr Reilly that patient care could potentially be compromised if it is not included in the group that also involves the nearby Mater Hospital.
Under the proposals, outlined in a report commissioned by the minister, the Rotunda will be teamed with hospitals in the north east, with Beaumont Hospital in Dublin at the helm.
This group does not include the Mater, even though it is less than a mile from the Rotunda in north inner city Dublin.
The Rotunda warned this could jeopardise the links between it and the Mater, which share 18 consultants between them.
A spokesman for the Rotunda said women who developed complications that had to be treated by outside specialists were sent to the Mater Hospital.
Separate concerns that Waterford Regional Hospital would be downgraded if it had to link up with Cork University Hospital now appear to have been allayed with pledges that it will retain cancer, cardiology and trauma services.
It is to be re-christened Waterford University Hospital and its academic consultants will have teaching appointments in University College Cork.
The concession followed protest marches against potential downgrading and intense political pressure at a high level.
The new groups will be set up following a report commissioned by Dr Reilly and carried out by Cork hospital consultant Prof John Higgins.
Each group will be linked to a particular medical school and headed by one major teaching hospital.
The Health Minister said there was "significant benefit to be gained by organising the country's hospitals into groups".
He added: "It will allow group chief executives to develop initiatives and bring about quicker treatments for more patients."
The grouping of hospitals is seen as the next step in bringing more efficiency to acute care and it will lead to sharing of doctors and services.
Doctors will be recruited to work in the group rather than a particular hospital.
The benefit for patients is that it could cut waiting lists – although patients may have to travel to another hospital within the group to have their procedure done.