The HSE said industrial action today involving members of the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association has resulted in the cancellation of many services, including some ‘elective inpatient and day procedures, outpatient appointments and general medical laboratory testing services”.
In a statement this evening, the HSE said some emergency departments have been very busy due to “patients with non-urgent care needs”, which has caused delays at many hospitals.
He said: “Local Strike Committees have been established in all hospitals and they liaise with local MLSA representatives to manage issues as they arise and to ensure the provision of a limited range of safe services.”
The HSE said laboratory services will resume as normal tomorrow, but a backlog of tests will ‘likely result in delayed turnaround times for tests ordered by the hospital and GP tomorrow and Friday’.
The HSE said the appointments and proceedings affected by today’s action will be postponed and it ‘continues to engage with all parties’ to try to avoid threatened industrial action ‘next week and the weeks to come”.
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Speaking to RTÉ’s Drivetime, Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists general secretary Terry Casey said it was “with great regret” that they had decided to strike.
He said the issue at the center of the dispute dates back 20 years and there have been no direct negotiations for more than two years.
Mr Casey said: “Unfortunately and with regret, that is why medical scientists have been on the line today rather than in the lab to help clinicians diagnose and treat patients, which is what they want to do. , but unfortunately only the negotiations have stalled.”
Union cites burnout and recruitment issues
Medical scientists perform critical diagnostic tests on patient samples, the majority of them working in public hospital laboratories.
The union that represents medical scientists, the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association (MLSA), announced the strike over long-standing issues over pay and career development.
Routine laboratory services are withdrawn from 8am to 8pm today and the MLSA has warned that if no progress is made, two more days of action are scheduled for May 24 and May 25, with three more strikes scheduled for the May 31, June 1 and June 2. .
MLSA President Kevin O’Boyle said there was huge frustration and burnout among medical scientists due to a serious recruitment and retention problem.
“Up to 20% of approved medical scientist positions go unfilled in hospitals,” O’Boyle said.
“Medical scientists perform the same work as other colleagues in hospital laboratories, but are paid an average of 8% less.”
The MLSA said it had done everything possible to avoid disrupting patients and other healthcare workers, but had no other alternative.
The union represents over 2,100 medical scientists employed in public voluntary hospitals, HSE hospitals, private hospitals and the Irish Blood Service.
On the picket line in front of St Vincent’s Hospital. I’ve spoken to medical scientists on strike over longstanding pay and development issues. The HSE warns of major disruption + delays in hospitals. Coming 8:20 a.m. @morningireland pic.twitter.com/Ws599GjECd
— Una Kelly (@UnaKelly3) May 18, 2022
“Significant disruptions” expected
The HSE’s National Director of Acute Services said “the majority” of the estimated 14,000 daily outpatient visits to hospitals would be affected by the industrial action.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Liam Woods said where services had been postponed, patients had already been contacted in the past two days.
“Unfortunately, this action will cause widespread disruption, as laboratory services are critical to the efficient and safe operation of hospitals,” he said, adding that “a lot” of planned work would be postponed.
“The impact is significant. In terms of planned surgery, there will be significant cancellations, all but very urgent cancer and transplant surgeries and 1-2 other exceptions will continue,” he said.
Mr Woods said there would be laboratory services available for emergency services “with certain parameters agreed” with scientists.
“There will be a slowdown in the services available in the emergency departments, so it will be slower to enter a hospital and perhaps slower to leave. There are services available, but they will be somewhat restricted “, did he declare.
Mr Woods said the net effect of the action would include longer wait times in emergency departments, as well as emergency departments moving higher up in the hospital, adding that the number of carts would be higher today.
He said if patients had not been told their procedures were being cancelled, they would have to show up as normal.
HSE chief Paul Reid said medical scientists had done a phenomenal job during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Asked before the Oireachtas Health Committee today about the strike, he said there were legacy issues and the HSE’s commitment to the industrial relations issue is to stay in the room and try to solve it.
Patient group concerned
The Irish Patients’ Association has called on Health Minister Stephen Donnelly to personally intervene with all parties involved in the dispute and ask them to stand down and not put patients’ lives at risk.
“Patients should not be used as pawns in a labor dispute, it is never too late for common sense to prevail,” said IPA Director Stephen McMahon.
The Department of Health said it was disappointed that industrial action had been taken and that it remains open to the involvement of medical scientists.
The department also said the strike is a violation of the current “Building Momentum” public sector wage agreement.
“The current public service agreement, Building Momentum, includes the sectoral bargaining process, to address outstanding claims such as this,” it said in a statement.
“The Civil Service Agreement Group (PSAG), made up of union and civil service representatives with an independent chairperson, met on May 11 to consider this matter. They recommended that the matter be immediately referred to the Industrial Relations Committee and that social peace be maintained in the meantime.
“Although the MLSA agreed to commit to the WRC, they did not agree to withdraw their strike action, which is a violation of Building Momentum.”
The ministry also said it recognizes and pays tribute to the dedication, professionalism and commitment of all medical scientists across the country.