MORE than 3,000 people marched in Abbeyleix to protest against plans to shut the town's community nursing unit.
Led by elderly patients, people of all ages descended on the town on Sunday, April 29. This was the second mass protest in six months to force the HSE to back down on its plan to close the hospital.
Speaking at the Rally Government TD, Charlie Flanagan told the crowd that there had been progress since the first march last November.
"While we haven't had full clarity on the hospital's future we have made progress...Today I am confident that Abbeyleix hospital will remain open," said the Fine Gael TD.
Mr Flanagan said he had spoken with Minister for Health James Reilly before the march and would brief him on the outcome.
However, Mr Marty Rohan, chairman of the Friends of Abbeyleix Hospital Committee did not agree.
"We haven't made progress and no matter what anybody says we will make no progress until the Minister says Abbeyleix hospital is there to stay and is full with 50 patients," he said.
Gary O'Keefe, of the Abbeyleix Hospital Action Committee, urged Deputy Flanagan and other politicans to halt the closure.
Local people were joined on the march by politicians from all parties as well as union members from INMO and SIPTU.
The HSE have said consultations on the hospital's future would start on May 8.