A threat of mass rallies on the streets of Meath in protest at what has been described as savage cuts to hospital services in the north-east has been made this week by the Save Navan Hospital Campaign.
The loss of nine beds and the curtailment of surgery in Navan, as well as the closure of the Medical Assessment Unit (MAU) on Saturdays and Sundays, has led to fears for patient safety.
Local doctors have spoken of "a real sense of despair" and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (IMNO) has expressed grave concerns at the cutting of agency staff in hospitals across the region, including Our Lady's Hospital in Navan and Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda.
The HSE has confirmed a complete cut in the use of agency staff by 1st December next, with the cuts in overtime beginning as early as this weekend.
Local doctor, Niall Maguire, said Navan Hospital's only speech and language therapist and only dietitian are agency staff, as are two cardiac technicians and four lab technicians.
"It is hard to see how acute medicine or even viable medical outpatients could continue at Navan if such supports are withdrawn," he said.
"It beggars belief that HIQA can be confining itself to pottering about the nursing homes of this country when we have the scandal of up to 50 trolleys in Drogheda and a senior management team scrabbling to meet financial targets that will undermine even that poor service. The degradation of capacity for acute medicine in Navan will surely contribute to the difficulties in Drogheda this winter," he said.
Dr Maguire said the cut to the MAU in Navan will mean more patients with acute medical issues in the A&E at weekends, but also during the week as MAU appointments otherwise available on Saturday (Sunday is closed for some time) will now have to be catered for during the five-day week.
"You get a real sense of despair at the management level as to how they can make the cuts required by 1st December," he added.
To read the full story see this week's Meath Chronicle