Hospitals 'face an impossible task' filling 450 consultant jobs
Struggling hospitals now have 450 consultant jobs which are not filled on a permanent basis, figures reveal.
The vacancies have been linked to trying to recruit new entrant specialists who are offered salaries 30pc less than longer-serving colleagues.
Consultants employed after October 1, 2012 are paid 30pc less than colleagues hired before that date, on top of the 10pc cut imposed on all new entrants to the public service during the recession.
Hospitals are having to employ locum doctors and temporary staff instead, to support the delivery of essential services.
The figures, provided by Health Minister Simon Harris to Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly, come as hospital waiting lists have risen again, with 71,205 patients in the queue for surgery and more than 541,000 facing delays before seeing a specialist.
A large number of cases have been lodged with the adjudication services of the Workplace Relations Commission on behalf of hospital consultants employed on the lower salary scales.
Mr Harris said that the Government was "committed to increasing the consultant workforce to support service delivery and to move to a consultant-delivered service".
While last year's Public Pay Commission report noted that the incremental measures being introduced for new entrants would not be sufficient to bridge the gap between the pay of existing and new entrant consultants, "new entrant consultants will benefit from these measures", he insisted.
"The HSE is also committed to supporting consultant recruitment and retention, pursuing a number of initiatives including improvements to the recruitment process, offering contracts to the hospital group rather than individual sites and focusing on family friendly arrangements."
Dr Peadar Gilligan, president of the Irish Medical Organisation, said vacant posts were proving "impossible to fill, with few or no applicants for what would have been previously considered highly sought-after senior medical posts".
"This unilateral 30pc cut was imposed by the then-government. It has resulted in hospital services being compromised, and longer waiting lists for our patients," he added.
Dr Gilligan said that the pay cuts had been imposed without agreement in the financial crisis in 2012 and must now be reversed.
"We are in the midst of a recruitment and retention crisis amongst consultants. This is directly impacting on patient care," he said.
"It is impossible to justify a two-tier pay system for people doing the same job with the same qualifications, and it is impossible to hire the consultants we need as long as we persist in paying them 30pc less than their colleagues."