In some cases, doctors who have — in theory — secured permanent posts are filling their own jobs as locums because their appointments have not been fully processed.
A total of 482 out of the 2,580 approved permanent posts are either completely uncovered or are being filled in a patchwork manner. Recruitment restrictions means no change is likely this year.
Some of the worst affected hospitals include Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin, which is missing four consultants — a surgeon, intensive care specialist and two immunologists — and does not have cover for them.
St James’s Hospital, Dublin, has six without cover in the areas of cancer, neurology, heart and lungs, gastroenterology, stroke and ear, nose and throat.
Of nine vacancies at Waterford Regional Hospital, six are not covered or are covered only on a part-time basis, while in Limerick, the Mid-Western Regional Hospital has seven uncovered vacancies and eight covered by locums. Two of those covered by locums have been approved for permanent replacements but the hospital has not been able to fill the positions, both in pathology, despite advertising for applicants.
A similar problem is evident at Letterkenny General Hospital which has been unable to fill three vacant posts approved for replacement, despite advertising.
The hospital also has two other vacant posts without cover and four consultants who successfully applied for their posts but are filling them as locums “awaiting permanency being processed”.
University College Hospital Galway, meanwhile, has six uncovered vacancies plus nine covered by consultants on temporary contracts with a further three positions in the process of being filled.
The HSE has 12 consultant vacancies advertised with closing dates in the next fortnight but, in a reflection of the trend countrywide, half of those are temporary contracts.
In a statement, the HSE said the recruitment cap was only one of the reasons for the vacancies.
“Vacancies will arise from time to time in different specialities due to a number of reasons including the moratorium on recruitment and the difficulty in recruiting consultants in different specialities,” it said.
However, it added: “The continuing purpose of the general moratorium on recruitment and promotion is to facilitate a permanent structural reduction in the numbers of staff.”
The Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association has said any vacancy is critical as the country only has about half the consultants it needs. The national taskforce on medical staffing in 2003 said there should be 3,600 consultants by 2013, not taking into the 17% growth in population since then.