3,000 people took to the streets in Co Laois today to protest against the proposed closure of a hospital unit for the elderly in Abbeyleix.

The protest was led by 92-year-old Brigid O'Neill, who said the residents were disappointed progress had not been made in consultations with the Health Service Executive since the last protest in November.

About 5,000 protesters took to the streets of Abbeyleix at that time when the HSE announced plans to close the unit and move 28 long-stay residents.

Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan told the protesters he met Minister for Health James Reilly yesterday and said he was confident the hospital unit would be retained.

The HSE said on Friday consultations on the provision of services for older people in counties Laois, Longford, Offaly and Westmeath would begin on 8 May.

The Abbeyleix Hospital Action group has described the timing of the move as disgraceful and unacceptable.

Gary O'Keeffe of the Abbeyleix Hospital Action Group said the decision in its entirety must be reversed.