Local hospital services are still under "tremendous pressure" despite a very positive visit by Labour leader Eamon Gilmore to South Tipperary General Hospital last week, consultant gastroenterologist Dr. Paud O'Regan has stated.
The Labour leader seemed very impressed by the hospital and indicated his strong support that acute hospital services for the people of South Tipperary should continue to be deployed locally, according to Dr. O'Regan.
"It was a very encouraging message and gives us considerable hope for how things will evolve with the expected change in government", he said.
However Dr. O'Regan added that he was still "extremely worried" about the threat of the removal of the acute services from Clonmel to Kilkenny.
He said the months leading to a general election posed extreme danger to the services because of the lack of political push, with one government effectively ending its term of office before a new administration was formed.
Because of that the Clonmel hospital was extremely vulnerable to people in the HSE who seemed determined as ever to downgrade services in the hospital.
"From our point of view the earlier the election is held the better", said Dr. O'Regan.
Meanwhile, Minister of State Dr. Martin Mansergh has said that unconditional Labour support for the retention of critical facilities at the Clonmel hospital would be welcome.
He was reacting to comments made by Deputy Eamon Gilmore during his visit to Clonmel last Thursday, when he said the people of South Tipperary could give the Labour Party a mandate to maintain services at the hospital by electing Senator Phil Prendergast to the Dail in the forthcoming general election.
Deputy Gilmore said he hoped there would be a Labour Party TD in South Tipp and Phil Prendergast would be the first person he would turn to for advice as to what should happen the hospital if Labour is in power.
He said if Senator Prendergast wasn't elected to the Dail it wouldn't change the party's attitude to the hospital, but "it would mean that we won't have anybody to talk to in South Tipperary about the hospital".
Dr. Mansergh said he would have welcomed unambiguous confirmation by Eamon Gilmore of his party's support for the hospital, but he was concerned that Deputy Gilmore appears to have made it conditional on a Labour TD being returned for the constituency.
"Senator Phil Prendergast is already an Oireachtas member, to whom he can easily turn to for advice at present. If Deputy Gilmore is implying that the Labour Party will only support the hospital if the people of Tipperary South return a Labour Party candidate to the next Dil, I would find this attitude deeply cynical, and not in accordance with the unified political and community approach (on the hospital) that has so far prevailed."
The Minister of State said a commitment to turn to advice to someone is in any case very far from being as strong a commitment to the future of South Tipperary General Hospital, as it might appear.
"I am glad that the Minister (Mary Harney) and Minister of State for Health (John Moloney) in the end heeded my advice and that of all my colleagues, backed by the overwhelming voice of the community, and deferred a reconfiguration exercise that could have been very damaging and prejudicial to the future of the hospital."
Dr. Mansergh said that those seeking to be elected to the next Dil and Seanad should pledge to continue to work together with local groups and hospital staff for the future of the hospital, rather than attempt to use the issue to gain electoral advantage.
"We should all recognise honestly that making national policy and local needs and priorities consistent with each other, bearing in mind health and safety, quality of patient health care, not to mention resource considerations, is never going to be easy. No one can afford to relax, regardless of the election outcome", he stated.