Over 150 consultant roles in Munster hospitals and community care are vacant this month, and a top doctor has warned this will lead to even longer patient waiting lists.
Hospitals nationally have struggled to fill consultant roles, with an estimated 728 vacant around the country or filled on a temporary basis by locum staff.
There are now 117 vacant consultant roles in the South/SouthWest Hospital Group alone. That includes Cork University Hospital, Waterford University Hospital, and University Hospital Kerry as well as smaller hospitals.
The Irish Hospital Consultants Association monitors these vacancies.
Its vice-president Professor Robert Landers warned it is having a detrimental effect on patients.
“That is a huge number and that is problematic. We are finding that across all hospitals, everywhere from Kerry to Tipperary to Waterford and Cork,” he said.
Professor Landers said another 50 senior roles in community care across Munster also remain unfilled.
He said this not only makes it impossible to clear the existing national waiting lists of over 830,000, but it also adds to the problem.
“There is no doubt there is going to be a demand like we have never seen before in the second half of the year as the health system comes out of Covid,” he said.
“There is no doubt the waiting lists are going to keep growing.”
The growth in waiting lists is slower at the moment than usual because people are not being referred to hospitals for non-urgent care, but this cannot last, he predicted.
The IHCA addressed the Oireachtas health committee last week on the crisis facing the health system when the pandemic hopefully eases later in the year.
At the time, he described the build-up of postponed operations and procedures nationally as “a “tsunami of missed care".
A spokeswoman for the hospital group said: “Recently the South/Southwest Hospital Group has been approved for a considerable number of new consultant posts as part of the HSE Winter Plan and HSE Integrated Care programme, which are most welcome and will further develop and enhance the availability of consultant delivered services across our hospitals and community services.”
She said recruitment has already started and, where possible, locum doctors are being appointed in the meantime.
The IHCA has long campaigned for changes to a 2012 government pay deal which reduced the salary for consultants working in the public system who started work after that time.
The two-track system this created has been criticised for pushing young doctors to emigrate for better working conditions and salaries in Australia or Canada.
Prof Landers said: “We are struggling to recruit, there is no doubt. We are going to be faced with a huge demand for services in the second half of this year, with a recruitment crisis worse than ever.”