The HSE is to extend the closing date for its controversial graduate nurse recruitment scheme by two weeks because the rate of applications to date has been slower than anticipated.

Under the scheme, the HSE proposes to hire 1,000 nurses graduating in 2012 on pay rates 20% lower than were available before.

The new starting rate would be €22,000 instead of €26,400 at present.

In addition, they would be hired on two-year contracts instead of on permanent contracts.

Nursing unions have called on graduates to boycott the positions.

The rate of applications was described by one source as "paltry", with the HSE now extending the closing date from Friday 18 January to Friday 1 February.

In addition, graduate nurses from 2010 and 2011 will be entitled to apply.

The HSE has said that the 1,000 posts will not be additional positions, but will replace overtime and the use of agency nurses.

Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation General Secretary Liam Doran said the fact that the scheme was being extended to 2010 and 2011 graduates proved that it was not an education-driven programme, but merely a cut-price jobs initiative for nurses.