Children are at risk of dying from malignant eye tumours or going blind because of theatre closures in one of the country's main paediatric hospitals, a leading consultant warned yesterday.
Professor Michael O'Keefe, an ophthalmologist, said Temple Street Children's Hospital in Dublin is having to enforce rolling theatre closures because of funding cuts.
He warned this would cut the theatre time available to both himself and other consultants, leaving children in need of urgent procedures at risk.
"It could mean that children with malignant tumours of the eye are not treated on time -- with life-threatening consequences," he said.
He also expressed fears that children with cataracts or glaucoma would face delays that would threaten their eyesight.
A spokeswoman for the hospital confirmed last night that the hospital had been told by the Health Service Executive (HSE) that it treated 12pc more patients than it was funded for last year.
There were 7,280 children treated in theatre in 2011, but this number must be cut by 873 to bring theatre activity back to 2010 levels.
The spokeswoman said: "The hospital is not funded to perform over and above its agreed activity levels.
"There will be a closure of one in four theatres.
"The plan will be subject to ongoing review in order to achieve the required activity levels."
Prof O'Keefe described as "GUBU-like" the instruction to scale back on theatre time by the HSE while the Department of Health was threatening to impose massive fines if children were still on waiting lists after 20 weeks.
He said this could mean children who were waiting less time but were in urgent need would be overlooked in favour of young patients whose illness was not an emergency but who were on lists for longer than the Department of Health limits.
A spokesman for the department said last night that the Special Delivery Unit had issued a warning to paediatric hospitals that if a child was waiting for more than 20 weeks the hospital would be fined €25,000 for every month they were not treated.
He said, however, that it was made clear that children in urgent need should be treated first and this would be taken into account in any performance analysis carried out by the Special Delivery Unit.
Meanwhile, the Mater Hospital in Dublin has had to trigger a plan to respond to overcrowding in its A&E department several times this week.
The alert is raised across the hospital to doctors and other staff to free up beds to allow the pressure on the A&E to be relieved.
This includes examining existing patients in bed to see of any of them can be discharged.
There were 23 patients in it A&E department yesterday and another 18 on a ward. There were 326 patients on trolleys nationwide.
A hospital spokeswoman said it was an exceptionally busy week.
There were 11 patients waiting for beds at noon yesterday.