SENIOR nurse managers have been instructed to step up the drive to encourage 1,000 graduates to apply for low-paid jobs after a "paltry" response to the scheme.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) yesterday refused to divulge how many applications it received for the first phase of the posts aimed at 2012 nursing graduates.
But a spokeswoman admitted: "The rate of applications has been slower than anticipated and the closing date has been extended."
The original closing date for the first phase of posts, which offered a two-year contract to graduate nurses of 2012 on salaries of €21,769, was today.
But this is now being extended for two weeks to February 1.
Nursing unions have bitterly opposed the scheme and urged nurses to boycott it, saying it is a clear attempt to secure cheap labour.
The salary is just 80pc of the rate of a regular new recruit.
The HSE has already included the proposed €10m in savings, which it hoped to generate by employing the nurses, in its budget projections for 2013.
The amount of funding hospitals and other health facilities receive is also based on reducing their agency and overtime bill on the basis that they will be able to recruit the nurses.
If the hospitals fail to hire the nurses through the scheme there will be cuts in other services to make up for the shortfall.