HUGE levels of staff absenteeism are being seen within the Health Service Executive despite efforts to keep staff in work.
New figures show that in April and May this year, the average absenteeism rate for health service staff was running at 4.6pc -- even though the current target is to reduce the rate to 3.5pc.
Non-attendance at work in May ran highest in medical and dental grades with a staggering 6.4pc absenteeism rate that month.
The lowest absenteeism rate seen in May was 3.5pc in health and social care professionals.
It is thought that non-attendance at work costs the health services €150m a year in replacement staff, with knock-on implications for patients also through lost working days.
The HSE said that it measures absenteeism nationally as one part of its strategy to address absence from work.
"Lost time is any time lost through absences due to certified and uncertified sick leave and unexplained absences.
"It does not include absences due to maternity leave, carer's leave or other statutory approved leave," said a spokesperson.
According to the HSE this corresponds to measurements used by many other organisations that monitor and report absenteeism.
The health body says that attendance management training has been agreed as a priority training course for all managers.
It said that absence due to illness and maternity leave is a normal incidence of working life.
And a spokesperson added that while it was not possible to provide explanations on the cause of absenteeism nationally, it was important to point out that the latter part of 2009 coincided with the swine flu pandemic.
However, the HSE also noted that the measurement of absence rates demonstrates "a downward trend".
The latest figures showed that rates of absenteeism shot up from just 1.7pc in April to 6.4pc in May this year, giving an average of 4.1pc for the two months.
The absenteeism rate for nursing grades was an average of 4.7pc for the two months; it was 3.4pc for health and social care professionals; 4.3pc for management and administration categories; 5.1pc for general support staff and 5.32pc for other patient and client care grades.
The HSE, which has over 140,000 staff, supplied the information in relation to absenteeism to the Fine Gael deputy leader Dr James Reilly.