The health service failed to fill 100 consultant posts advertised by the Public Appointments Service between 2015 and 2017.
Over three years the HSE was unable to fill up to one-third of consultant posts sought, including 39 in 2015, 30 in 2016 and 31 last year, according to the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA).
During the timeframe 39 advertised hospital consultant posts received no applicants, and a further 153 received between one and two applicants only.
A HSE spokeswoman said the lowest number of applicants were for posts in psychiatry, emergency medicine, radiology and pathology. Smaller hospitals were also adversely affected.
According to the IHCA, the failure to recruit staff is having an adverse impact on most medical specialities and hospital types across the country.
“The shortage of consultants and the fact that approximately 450 approved permanent consultant posts [a full 15 per cent of the total] cannot be filled on a permanent basis is undermining the quality of care that can be provided to the public,” said IHCA secretary general Martin Varley.
“It is contributing to growing waiting lists for consultant outpatient appointments, and is overstretching the capacity of hospitals to provide the type of care that patients need and deserve.”
Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) president Dr Peadar Gilligan estimates there are over 1,400 fewer consultants employed than are needed.
According to the IMO, Ireland is “precariously short” of doctors, with only 2.9 practising physicians per 1,000 population compared with an EU average of about 3.4.