FOUR-fifths of public hospitals are spending more than 70pc of their HSE budgets on wage packages, the Herald can reveal.
There are now mounting concerns that some hospitals will soon run out of cash, with public funds being swallowed up by massive wage bills.
New figures obtained exclusively by the Herald show that some hospitals are using up to 85pc of their taxpayer-funded budgets to cover salaries.
And as hundreds of sick patients continue to lie on trolleys today, we can reveal that 19 hospitals are clocking up larger wage bills than last year.
The Irish Patients' Association has expressed its dismay at the figures and today warned that hospitals are at "severe risk" of running out of cash.
The organisation said there now a "strong possibility" hospitals will struggle to cover the full costs of wages and patient services before the year is out.
The news will heap further pressure on Health Minister James Reilly and comes just days after the HSE begged the Government for an additional €116m of taxpayers' money to deal with hospitals' current financial woes.
Twelve hospitals -- including Sligo General Hospital, St Luke's Hospital in Kilkenny and Roscommon General Hospital -- all spent more than 80pc of their HSE budgets on wages last year.
The Regional Maternity Hospital in Limerick used up 85pc of its budget on wages, followed by The Coombe's Women's Hospital in Kildare and Portlaoise General Hospital which both spent 84pc.
In Dublin, the Rotunda Hospital (80pc), the National Maternity Hospital (80pc) and St Columcille's Hospital (76pc) also heavily used up their budget allocation on wages.
This means that hospitals are spending only small percentages their HSE budgets on patient services.
But the news that almost half the country's public hospitals are set to clock up larger wage bills than last year has caused fury among politicians and patients' groups.
Stephen McMahon, of the Irish Patients' Association, said the figures show that there is a "major risk" hospitals will go over budget this year.
"Let's make no mistake about it, these figures show that we are facing into a crisis."
A spokesperson for the HSE told the Herald: "In a health service delivering front-line patient care to the public on a daily basis, staff -- nurses, doctors, therapists etc -- will make up a considerable proportion of the overall costs.
"The Government recruitment moratorium limits the hiring of staff in the public sector and over 5,000 staff have left the HSE in the last two years."