OPERATIONS could be cancelled as a result of a shortage of junior hospital doctors from the summer.
The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) is to meet with the Health Service Executive on Friday to discuss what it calls a "new and unnecessary crisis in the Irish health system".
It has warned that "increasingly from this summer, patients and their families will see dramatic reductions in service".
"The most notable impact will be in anaesthesia, with knock-on consequences for surgery and obstetrics, and emergency medicine, disciplines in which it has already been very difficult to recruit."
One hospital with 13 specialist registrar positions in anaesthesia has managed to fill only six of these positions, with their work due to start in July.
Donal Duffy, of the IHCA, said it would be stressing at the meeting that "Ireland has got to get back to a situation where it is seen as an attractive place to be trained".
And he told the Herald that the IHCA will seeking information on what appropriate contingency arrangements will be put in place for hospitals where there are shortages in July.
The IHCA has expressed concern that there will be "radically fewer non-consultant hospital doctors (NCHDs) from early July". These doctors undertake a very considerable load of every hospital's work.
The HSE has designated 3,600 NCHD posts as recognised training posts from July 1. This will mean a reduction of 900 in such posts from that date.
Mr Duffy said that at this stage it was unclear how many posts which are not designated as "training posts" will be left unfilled. However, a non-training post is seen as being much less attractive for doctors who are seeking to advance their career.
Health Minister Mary Harney said that she had been advised that there are likely to be difficulties in filling some NCHD posts in July.
"However, the extent of any shortfall will only become evident over the coming weeks," she said.