Minister for Health Simon Harris has told the Oireachtas that he "expects" the €4.8m needed to open a new hospice unit for the southeast to be made available in the forthcoming Estimates.

It is now hoped the long-awaited service can "partially open" in February.

The 20-bed unit on the grounds of University Hospital Waterford has been ready for occupation since construction ended months ago but has been lying idle while waiting for the Government to allocate money to staff the facility.

Last week the voluntary board of the Waterford Hospice Movement expressed "great disappointment" that the necessary funding to allow the unit to open hadn't been made available, particularly as they have helped to raise €4.4m locally to part-fund the cost of construction, and have committed to raising another €1.6m.

Waterford Oireachtas members met Mr Harris today and, according to Sinn Féin's David Cullinane, "the minister was able to tell us that he expects that the full allocation of €4.8m for staff and costs, to open and maintain the centre, will be made in this year's Budget, with partial opening of the centre in February".

The new unit occupies the ground and first floor of a new building on the UHW campus, which cost over €31m in all to build.

The 20-bed facility includes separate gardens for each patient, when occupied, and will be staffed by a multi-disciplinary palliative care team.

Mr Cullinane this afternoon said that, while the minister's commitment is welcome, "we must also make sure there are no more delays".

He called for the necessary staff to be hired "as a matter of urgency".