The HSE has confirmed that, due to financial restrictions, the entire orthopaedic department in Our Lady's Hospital in Navan will close for the month of December.

The HSE says just six patients will have their operations rescheduled because of the closure, contrary to an earlier estimate that around 200 operations at the north-east's main orthopaedic centre would be affected.

Patients suffering fractures or trauma, as well as day cases and those with out-patient appointments, will continue to be treated during December.

In a brief statement, the HSE says the plan is part of the organisation's break-even plan 'a number of measures have been taken throughout the acute hospitals'.

It added that the number of operations at the department is 'ahead of targets for procedures for 2007'.

There are already difficulties in Cavan General Hospital with operations being cancelled there as a result of a consultant going on leave and no locum being taken on to replace him.

Earlier, Tánaiste and Minister for Finance Brian Cowen again insisted the health service must live within its budget.

Facing demands from Opposition TDs for extra money for the current year through a supplementary estimate, Mr Cowen said that if improvements were to be sustainable the health service must stay within its budget.

Labour TDs Tommy Broughan and Jan O'Sullivan had called for a supplementary estimate.

Mr Broughan pointed to the failure to open a nursing home in Balrothery to patients while Ms O'Sullivan said the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire could not take in new patients because it cannot discharge exiting patients.