SOME newly appointed surgeons in public hospitals are getting access to theatres to operate for just half a day in a fortnight – despite rising waiting lists.
Professor Paddy Broe, a surgeon in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin, said the doctors are at risk of losing their skills, and this means safety risks for patients.
Other surgeons can arrive in hospital in the morning and see their planned theatre list destroyed because of a lack of beds, he told the annual conference of the Irish Hospital Consultants' Association (IHCA).
Hospitals continue to be overcrowded. Hundreds of beds are also blocked by patients recovering from care.
The warning comes as the number of people on public waiting lists is at a record high, with 4,729 facing delays of more than a year at the end of August.
Prof Broe, who is president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said if surgeons could work in private medicine also this would help them to maintain their skills.
"Newly appointed surgeons are not accessible to 35pc-45pc of the population who are insured and for a small country that does not make sense."
The 30pc cut in the entry salary for newly appointed consultants, which came into effect last October, is driving doctors abroad. For a consultant in public practice only, this means a drop from €166,010 to €116,207.
Denis Evoy, president of the IHCA, said the post of professor of surgery at the Mater Hospital in Dublin cannot be filled because a doctor would have to take a 30pc cut in salary and "worse terms and conditions".
Out of 52 posts for permanent and pensionable consultant jobs advertised there have been seven applicants, the conference was told.
Jobs that cannot be filled include a post for a radiologist in Kerry, a histopathologist in Limerick, a cardiologist in Galway, and two specialists in intensive care in Dublin's children's hospitals.
Ian Carter, who was appointed director of acute hospitals in the HSE over the summer, warned that many of the systems failures found in a probe into a UK hospital with a high death rate exist in Ireland.
He was referring to Stafford Hospital probe, which found tolerance of poor performance and an over-emphasis on meeting financial and other targets at the expense of patient care.
A further cut could increase the chances of hospitals becoming dysfunctional, he warned.