A protest against admission restrictions at Bantry General Hospital is to be held on Sunday.
GPs and patients representatives are furious about the decision by the South/South West Hospital Group to restrict access to the hospital's acute services unit.
It is to remain restricted until at least September and in the interim the hospital group, which runs the hospital, says the public needs to “consider other care options”.
These options should include going to their GPs and the out-of-hours service, South Doc, or, if necessary, Cork University Hospital, the group said in a statement.
The hospital's Acute Medical Assessment Unit has had restricted access since last Monday week as it does not have enough consultants to offer full services.
There are supposed to be “at least five consultant physicians” based at the hospital, according to the HSE in 2015.
Of four consultants hired for Bantry General Hospital, two have retired since acute surgery ceased in 2013 and the 24-hour casualty unit was replaced with an urgent care unit consisting of a five-days-a-week medical assessment unit and a 24-7 local injury unit.
A third consultant is now unavailable for personal reasons, leaving just one.
Health campaigner Jerry Harrington has now organised a protest over the situation for this Sunday at 1pm in The Square, Bantry.
“The fact that people have to travel to CUH is, we believe, potentially putting lives at risk due to the extra journey times," he said.
"The speedy care people receive in Bantry hospital is saving lives and the staff there are truly amazing. CUH is already overcrowded and this has made matters even worse for them.
“The people of Bantry, West Cork and Kerry feel let down and ignored and we must stand up and be counted.”
Bantry GP Paul O’Sullivan said: “Ambulance services are coming under very significant strain and patients are waiting hours to be transferred.
“We had a patient, about two days ago, who had acute appendicitis. We were waiting three hours for an urgent ambulance to attend to our surgery to take her to Cork.
“She was in significant distress. So, basically, as myself and my colleagues warned last week, what is happening at Bantry General Hospital is having a knock-on effect.
"Ambulance crews say they're under very significant pressure because they have to take patients now to CUH."
He said campaigners are trying to drum up support because people will only realise the impact of what is happening at Bantry General Hospital when they need services most over the coming weeks and they are not available.
Independent TD Michael Collins, who has been helping raise awareness of issues at the hospital, said: “This is a vital resource for the people of West Cork and anybody who values it needs to make their voice heard. Management, and the HSE, as well as the minister of health, need to know that what is happening at the hospital is unacceptable.”