Patients suffer as pay too low to attract hospital staff
Low pay and poor conditions are continuing to hinder the recruitment of nurses who are the vital lifeblood of the health service.
These staff are crucial in solving problems such as waiting list bottlenecks and treatment of patients on trolleys.
Figures obtained by the Irish Independent reveal that there are posts for 30 nurses and 35 midwives vacant across six hospital sites in the University of Limerick hospital group alone.
A spokeswoman said this "represents a vacancy rate of 5.8pc and includes permanent and short-term positions to cover maternity and long-term sick leave."
It has now managed to recruit 20 nurses who will be taking up jobs there shortly.
The low rates of pay and overcrowding have resulted in nurses moving from big hospitals in Dublin, Cork and Galway to regional hospitals.
The National Maternity Hospital and the Rotunda in Dublin have both seen a flight of midwives to units around the country.
Nurses in the early stages of their career can stretch their wages further in provincial towns, paying lower rents in particular.
The main children's hospitals in Dublin, including Crumlin, Temple Street and Tallaght, are also experiencing a nursing drain with 132 posts vacant, and this includes nurses on maternity and sick leave.
The HSE confirmed it is now planning "an international recruitment campaign".
A spokesman said that to date many positions in specialist nursing areas such as theatre and intensive care units have been filled by international nurses.
Wages and tax competition with the UK have also meant that the HSE has only been able to lure a few hundred Irish nurses back from there.
This is despite offering a relocation package per nurse of €1,500, along with registration fee costs and further education.
The HSE said: "In addition, there is an ongoing advertisement on our website for a variety of nursing opportunities.
"In an effort to maximise the opportunity for any nurse wishing to apply for a job in the HSE, these advertisements have no closing date as we manage applicants on a rolling basis and applicants are welcome to apply at any time."
At the other end of the scale, the relative "low pay" for hospital consultants is also leaving key specialist posts unfilled, with knock-on effects for patients.
Irish hospitals are competing in a global market for the best specialists. A Labour Relations Commission (LRC) agreement last year to improve the starting pay for newly recruited full-time consultants is failing to attract enough applications,
Dr Matthew Sadlier, a full- time consultant psychiatrist in Dublin, is now earning over €127,000.
However, he said this is still far behind the €170,000 which his colleagues who were employed before 2010 earn.
An initial cut of 10pc was imposed in 2010, followed by a 30pc reduction in 2012. By the time Dr Sadlier got a full-time job in December 2013, the starting salary fell to €117,000.
The LRC deal last year brought the starting pay for a newly hired full-time consultant up to €127,000 with an additional top-up for years of service.
However, it has still not been enough to attract badly-needed specialists to fill jobs in hospitals across the country. This is affecting patient care.
Dr Sadlier said the incremental scale which would bring the salary up to €170,000 has been frozen.
He works in the public hospital system with no private practice. He now earns than €127,000.
But, just like nurses and doctors hired after 2010, specialists want to end the two-tier pay divide.
Dr Sadlier said: "Those employed later have the same responsibilities but there is a psychological feeling of not being valued as much as others."