STAFF and patients at Ireland's only dedicated HIV respite ward have been granted a lifeline after the HSE agreed to re-open admissions.
The agency has postponed any decision to close The Rowan Ward in Cherry Orchard Hospital, pending a full review of its operations.
Families and campaigners have cautiously welcomed the development but warned they will continue to fight any future decision to close it.
Senior sources at the hospital revealed yesterday the HSE had privately apologised for making plans about the ward's future without consulting families and employees.
The news of the planned closure -- as first revealed in the Herald -- shocked Junior Health Minister Roisin Shorthall, who claimed she had not been consulted about the closure of admissions last month.
A source explained: "Just two weeks ago, we were told no more patients were to be admitted to the ward. We were given no reason whatsoever by the HSE. Now, admissions are back open which is an absolute relief to all the patients."
The Rowan Ward was opened in the early 1990s and provides care to HIV patients.
The 18-bed ward is staffed by 12 nurses and two nursing managers.
People Before Profit councillor Brid Smith said she was "hopeful" the HSE would recognise the importance of keeping the ward open.
"This ward has saved lives, there's no doubt about it. It provides a tremendous value to the patients and their families. We will not stand for any closure of this ward," she said.
"The HSE knows it has not been fair to families and patients. Hopefully it will adopt a more consultative approach from now on."
One of the patients on the ward, Linda McDonagh, said they were "overjoyed".
"We're just over the moon admissions are back open. I can't tell you what the staff here have done for me and others here. They are the most dedicated team you can imagine. The thought of losing the ward would just be devastating."
A spokesman for the HSE said they were constantly reviewing services in light of the current economic climate.
"No decision has been taken and all stakeholders will be consulted," he added.