HSE doesn't know how many consultants it employs
Serious shortcomings in the HSE's management of data have made it impossible to say how many consultants work in the health system.
A damning new report has raised red flags about the ability of the HSE to monitor pay and staffing for high-level employees.
It comes on foot of a spending review by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, which repeatedly ran into problems accessing information.
At one point two divisions of the HSE provided different figures for the number of consultants employed in the system.
The HSE was also unable to generate a definitive pay bill figure for consultants.
"Such data quality issues need to be resolved so this high cost component of the health service pay bill is clear," the review states.
"A more comprehensive database is required on this grade to analyse consultant efficiency and effectiveness of the current mode of consultant care delivery."
The lack of accurate and consistent figures available meant officials who carried out the study for Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe had to work off a series of assumptions.
Almost 3pc of the full-time employees in health are consultants. In the five years from 2012, the number has grown twice as fast as total HSE employment. The pay bill for their work is estimated at €531m.
Consultants are currently engaged in a battle with the Government for better pay and conditions.
But this report finds that while the income of a consultant in Ireland per average wage fell continuously from 2012 to 2016, it remained over three times higher than the average working wage.
Between 2012 and 2016 the gross salaried annual income of a consultant working in Ireland fell by 22pc.
However, last year consultants in Ireland earned 28pc more than their UK counterparts and 36pc above their New Zealand-based colleagues.
Reacting to the study, the Irish Medical Organisation said there were 500 vacant consultant posts and almost half of jobs advertised in 2018 "received few suitably qualified applicants, or none at all".
It also noted that Ireland has the lowest number of consultants per head of population in the EU.
"Our doctors continue to emigrate to health systems that pay substantially more and offer better supports and working environments.
"The consequences are that there are over 560,000 on outpatient waiting lists and a further 200,000 patients waiting for in-patient or day case procedures," the IMO said.