GROWING numbers of full-time hospital consultant posts are lying vacant despite salaries of more than €116,000 being offered.
A full-time hospital consultant post is no longer as sought after, having previously been the pinnacle of a career, particularly for Irish-born doctors who were working abroad and wanted to return home.
Cuts in pay for newly recruited doctors are being blamed by doctors' organisations for driving Irish-born medics to more lucrative jobs in other countries.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) confirmed that 21 vacancies for full-time consultant posts had to be readvertised last year.
Although it is unclear if lack of interest was the reason in all cases, hospitals are reporting that several of these jobs failed to attract even one applicant.
The HSE figures, obtained by the Irish Independent, are backed up by Dr Rhona Mahony, the Master of the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street, Dublin. She said attracting doctors into obstetric posts here was now a major issue.
"We have had a notable decline in applications for consultant posts and interest in consultant posts in this hospital, which is extraordinary," she said.
"This is one of the busiest maternity hospitals in Europe; there is a tremendous reputation attached to this hospital and, generally, it would be seen as a great place to work.
"But there are a lot of issues at the moment in the background that are making life in obstetrics less attractive.
"Obviously there is the whole issue of salary cuts coming down the line. People feel that the hours are too long and the resources are very poor and, again, the blame culture makes it an unattractive country to work in."
Other hospitals are also reporting a similar trend and are finding problems getting applicants including Kerry General Hospital which had three consultant radiology vacancies.
Mullingar hospital saw a withdrawal of all applicants for a post of consultant physician last year after it was announced new entrants would earn less than existing specialists.
The Irish Medical Organisation and the Irish Hospital Consultants Association are blaming salary cuts and changes in conditions for the difficulties. More cuts are to follow under Croke Park II.
Changes which came into effect last autumn saw the entry pay for newly recruited consultants, hired to treat only public patients, fall from €166,010 to €116,207. The salary for a new recruit who can treat public and private patients dropped from €156,258 to €109,300.
Public practice consultants had earned up to €240,000 under contracts introduced in 2008 – before a pay cut in 2009, the Croke Park I Agreement in 2010 and the 30pc cut. A spokeswoman said there were 104 consultant posts advertised in 2012 and 21 were readvertised.
Of these 12 were for HSE West, four for Dublin North Leinster, four for Dublin mid-Leinster and one for HSE South.
Of the 21 posts readvertised, 17 are now progressing – filled or with candidates being vetted or interviewed. It is understood that some of the posts are filled, but not by full-time staff. The work is done by locum consultants on a contract instead.