HOSPITALS face potential staffing chaos next month if consultants opt out of working new evening and weekend shifts.
The Irish Hospital Consultants Association said no individual would be bound by the new rostering arrangements.
Currently, most consultants are contracted to work during the day time and not at the weekend. But Health Minister James Reilly has said he wants the new rosters, which were worked out at Labour Relations Commission talks last month, in place by early November.
Under the new arrangements, several specialists will be required to work until 8pm during weekdays and doing weekend shifts. Emergency consultants would do on-site shifts from 8pm to 8am.
The IHCA, which represents most of the 2,500 senior doctors involved, refused to speculate on the consequences if some chose to opt out of the new rosters.
But hospitals could potentially become flashpoints from next month if some doctors are told by managers to work new shifts and refuse. Speaking at the IHCA's annual meeting, president Denis McEvoy, a surgeon in St Vincent's Hospital, said: "We have a set of proposals to put to our members, and it's up to each and every member to accept or reject those proposals."
But it is ultimately a matter for each consultant and their employer. "The IHCA has always done business that way," he added.
Mr McEvoy warned there are simply not enough specialists in hospitals to operate a full rostering system.
Although the IHCA will recommend a vote in favour of the rosters, support for the measure was clouded by the Government's decision to cut the pay of newly recruited consultants by 30pc.
This will "whittle away" the ability of hospitals to entice the best quality medics to take up posts here, Mr McEvoy told the gathering of specialists in Galway.
"Most of us know that Ireland has been finding it exceedingly difficult to recruit consultants in the past few years," he said.
"The number of eligible applicants for advertised consultant posts continues to decline sharply and over one fifth of (them) were not filled last year."
The conference heard that the starting salaries of consultants in the UK are between €123,000 and €148,000 with potential for top ups.
New starting salaries here range from €116,000 to €145,000, although doctors are entitled to on-call allowances and a lump sum on retirement of around €100,000.
Speaking at the conference, Bill Maher, who was the first chief executive to oversee a hospital group, warned that hospitals would not be able to take another cut in budgets.
Mr Maher, who oversees the Galway-Roscommon Group, said it now has no patient waiting over nine months for surgery and had reduced waiting times even though the funding they got for 2012 fell.
However, he said the budgets needed to be more realistic and the employment ceiling for each hospital should be lifted to allow managers more discretion about hiring staff.