Minister for Health James Reilly has said there is a much clearer picture now of the numbers of workers retiring from the health service by the end of this month, and of the plans necessary to deal with the reduction in staff.

Minister Reilly said there was a dynamic contingency plan in place, given that more may yet apply to leave, and others may change their minds.

Commenting on the situation at the Mid-Western Regional Maternity Hospital in Limerick, Mr Reilly said it was not correct to say that 47 midwives were leaving the hospital.

He said figures he has seen show that "16-and-a-half whole-time equivalent staff" had applied to leave.

The minister said he was very comfortable that these people could be replaced and that patients should not suffer.

He reiterated comments by Minister for Public Expenditure & Reform Brendan Howlin, that it was up to each hospital area manager in the public sector to have the contingency plan for their area.