A bid to entice badly needed hospital specialists with salaries of up to €175,000 to work here is "doomed", a doctors' leader warned yesterday.
Dr Gerard Crotty, President of the Irish Hospital Consultants' Association, said the improved pay offer - with starting salaries of up to €155,000 - will not be enough to fill the 200 vacant specialist posts in hospitals.
He was speaking as the Beaumont Hospital, in Dublin, confirmed it was short five anaesthetists, despite a recruitment campaign. Nationally, 40 posts for anaesthetists are either in varying stages of recruitment or filled by stand-in locums.
Beaumont has had to close theatres and postpone patient surgery already this month as a result.
And in a further blow, Junior Health Minister Kathleen Lynch said the health service will lose around 1,000 nurses this year to retirement, with particular impact on psychiatric services.
She said: "We are very actively, as we speak, trying to entice our nurses back into the country. We have people working on that.
"A lot of our people went to the UK so it is easier to be over and back talking to them. We know who they are and we know where they are because we trained them.
"They keep in touch regularly with other service users and they keep in touch with people here.
"It is a difficult area to work in and people do have a right to retire at that age. But, with the type of experience they have gathered, it is very hard to replace," she said, while attending the opening of the Cork University Hospital psychiatric unit yesterday.
Beaumont Hospital said the shortage of anaesthetists is also being experienced by other hospitals around the country.
It now wants the Health Service Executive (HSE) to allow it to advertise two of the vacant posts by offering a contract which would permit the specialist to treat private patients in other hospitals also.
A spokesman said: "We held public competitions in July and October 2014 to fill vacancies and we have a continuous advert on hospitaljobs.ie for temporary consultant anaesthetists.
"However, recruitment difficulties have been experienced, and we have failed to attract qualified and suitable applicants.
"We understand this is a problem across the health system in Ireland.
"Posts have been filled with locums as far as possible. The lack of anaesthetists is causing theatres to be closed.
"During last week, there were two days on which a theatre was closed; this week there will be one closure," he added.
He said that, depending on the complexity of the case, an average of three or four patients are having their operations cancelled each day.
"The closures are being managed on a day-to-day basis and every effort is being made to minimise closures.
"All emergency cases are managed and all patients are prioritised clinically," said the spokesman.
The consultants' salary offer to new recruits was recently improved, allowing doctors to reach the top grade of €175,000 in nine rather than 12 years.
But doctors' organisations warn it is not on par with the salaries of consultants hired between 2008 and 2012.