€10,000 - the fee paid by the HSE to recruitment agencies for each nurse they hire
The HSE is paying recruitment agencies a €10,000 hiring fee for every nurse it employs in a desperate new bid to fill vital hospital jobs.
The €10m recruitment drive hopes to attract 1,000 nurses to work in the health service, starting with 250 needed urgently.
A tender, which is expected to share the work among a number of agencies, was issued during the summer in the hope of having nurses in place as the winter trolley crisis worsens.
However, the €10,000 fee for each nurse hired will go directly to the recruitment agency.
It comes as the HSE is expected to have an overrun of €600m at the end of this year.
This may leave less room for the Government to deliver on 'sweeteners' like tax cuts in the Budget and may even push up VAT rates.
The costly HSE recruitment method has been brought to the attention of Health Minister Simon Harris by Stephen McLarnon, chief executive of Health Sector Jobs, which runs jobs fairs for nurses here and abroad.
"The HSE and hospital groups rely heavily on recruitment agencies at substantial cost to the taxpayer," he said.
At the same time, he said, they are failing to avail of the cheaper and potentially more effective jobs fairs at a fraction of the cost.
"We invited Irish hospitals to come to a fair in Australia last June but the initial interest was not followed up.
"We brought five NHS Trusts to Australia with us for a fixed fee. Kings College Hospital hired 30 nurses as result.
"We met Irish nurses who emigrated during the recession and would like to come back but find the HSE application process very bureaucratic."
The minister and health chiefs only have themselves to blame this winter if the trolley crisis is worsened by staff shortages, he added.
In response, the HSE said it is "significantly challenged in sourcing a sufficient nursing workforce supply".
"This is despite the substantial efforts already in place to attract and retain the necessary workforce, for example the offer of a permanent contract of employment to all graduating nurses in 2017 and again in 2018," it said.
"The support of other recruitment methods are essential to support the ongoing efforts of the HSE.
"The tender process will ensure the HSE receives the best value for money from any agencies awarded the contract."
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar rejected claims health funding was going into a "black hole" and said more funds were being spent on hiring additional staff like nurses.
He also claimed waiting lists were going in the "right direction" and the numbers waiting for surgery were down to 74,189. A record 514,585 are waiting to see a specialist.
"I want to acknowledge in Ireland that there are far too many people waiting far too long to see a specialist or to have an operation for the procedure they need and I do want to acknowledge that," he said.
"It will be a number of weeks before I determine the Budget. Obviously there's an overrun in one department and underruns in other departments.
"What was favourable recently were very positive Gross Domestic Product (GDP) numbers.
"There are lots of moving parts," he added.
However, Fianna Fáil spokesman on health Stephen Donnelly reminded him that 82,597 people have now been waiting more than 18 months to see a specialist.
"This is despite the target set by Mr Varadkar as minister for health that by the end of June 2015 no one would wait more than 18 months," he said.
The chairman of the Private Hospitals Association, Michael Cullen, said they have additional capacity to help reverse the growing national waiting list figures.
He called for more funding for the National Treatment Purchase Fund.