The Minister for Health, Mary Harney, has described the dispute which blocked the scheduled opening of Cork University Maternity Hospital today as an absolute disgrace.

The Health Service Executive said it was postponing the opening of the hospital for a week following negotiations with the Irish Nurses Organisation and SIPTU.

Ms Harney said the Irish Nurses Organisation was responsible but the union has rejected the charges.

Today's planned opening of the hospital was deferred for a couple of hours to facilitate talks between the unions and management of the HSE.

Earlier, the chief executive of the HSE, Professor Brendan Drumm rejected claims by the INO that the dispute over staffing at the hospital is about patient safety.

Professor Drumm said it was really about money.

The INO's General Secretary, Liam Doran has accused Professor Drumm of insulting the midwives involved in the dispute, saying his comments would do nothing to resolve the dispute.

The Health Service Executive has put a telephone helpline in place for maternity patients. The number is: 1850 742628.