I thank Deputy O'Reilly for her question. The number of consultants working in the public health service continues to grow year on year. It increased by 125 whole-time equivalents, WTEs, or just over 4%, in the year to the end of May. I will get the clarification for the Deputy on these 125 WTEs and how many are on the specialist register. I do not have that information with me.
In the five years to the end of May, the number has increased by 533 - more than 20% - and now stands at 3,121 consultants working in the Irish health service. The details by hospital and specialty requested are being provided to the Deputy in response to this question and I have the tables here for the Deputy.
On vacancies, the national doctors training and planning division of the HSE has provided figures up to 27 June. This identifies 362 posts, by hospital and specialty, that have been approved for filling. Of these, 151 have been identified as vacant by the hospital or agency concerned. The hospital or agency concerned have, however, not confirmed the status of the other 211 posts. Again, the detailed figures provided by the HSE in respect of this element of the question are also being provided to the Deputy.
The public health service operates in a global market for medical specialists, which is experiencing a worldwide shortage. Notwithstanding this fact, progress continues to be made in attracting and retaining consultants and in addressing improvements in the training, working environment and career pathways for non-consultant hospital doctors - our future supply of consultant candidates. A range of factors have been identified as contributing to the recruitment and retention challenge, of which pay is a part. I hope the Deputy will recognise that because I understand that in 2012 she wanted to cap consultants' pay and specifically referenced reducing their pay in a policy document. Research published last year by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, RCSI, also identified excessive service demands and the quality and consistency of training as critical challenges; so it is about pay but not just pay.
The issue of new entrant pay is being addressed in general terms under the terms of the Public Service Stability Agreement 2018-2020 and has been examined by the Public Sector Pay Commission. The Deputy will be familiar with that. I have given a commitment to finding a process to now engage with consultants, such as we do with GPs and nurses, to find a way forward on pay issues.