Medical scientists halt strike action as Labour Court intervenes

MLSA says 2,100 members will resume work on Wednesday in all hospital laboratories

Medical scientists mount a picket at St James’s Hospital in Dublin today. The scientists have withdrawn routine laboratory services in protest over pay and conditions and will continue their protest on Wednesday from 8am until 8pm. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Medical scientists have suspended their strike action after accepting an invitation to Labour Court talks.

The Labour Court intervened in the dispute on Tuesday, inviting both parties to engage in exploratory talks starting on Wednesday.

As a result, the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association (MLSA) has called off the second day of a two-day work stoppage which had been planned for Wednesday.

Medical scientists mount a picket at St James’s Hospital in Dublin today. The action will affect routine hospital and GP services, including the analysis of blood and urine samples, scans and other tests, across the country. Photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin
Medical scientists on strike earlier today at St James’s Hospital, Dublin. The strike action has since been suspended. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

One day of strike action last week and a second dayon Tuesday led to the cancellation of tens of thousands of appointments and procedures for patients, and caused widespread disruption in the health service.


The MLSA said its 2,100 members will resume work as normal on Wednesday morning across all hospital laboratories.

MLSA general secretary Terry Casey said the union will enter the Labour Court process in good faith and with commitment to resolving the severe recruitment and retention issues in the laboratory sector.

“The MLSA’s executive committee met this afternoon and has agreed to accept the Labour Court’s invitation. We will remain focused on what is required to achieve a sustainable work structure for medical scientists, patients and the Irish health service.”

All routine GP testing services were suspended between 8am and 8pm on two days of industrial action, though dialysis and some cancer services continued, according to the HSE.

It said hospitals would try to resume appointments and procedures as quickly as possible on Wednesday, but warned that “inevitably” cancellations of surgeries and outpatient appointments in hospitals will occur. Hospitals will contact patients directly to advise them on any changes to arrangements.

Routine GP testing and testing services for patients already in hospital is to resume on Wednesday.

The Irish Patients Association said the more than 30,000 patients affected by the strike must be urgently rescheduled into the system through the provision of extra clinics and theatre space.

The industrial relations process failed patients and the parties concerned,” said spokesman Stephen McMahon. “We need to know how this happened so lessons can be learnt so the risk of future strikes can be avoided.”

The MLSA says members are frustrated over long-standing issues and voted to take industrial action last November after a 98 per cent vote in favour.

The strike went ahead after industrial relations talks with employers failed to reach agreement earlier this year. Further industrial action was planned on three days next week.

Medical scientists are seeking pay parity with biochemists who also work in hospital labs. The MLSA says its members carry out identical work but are paid on average 8 per cent less.

Other issues which the union wants resolved include the filling of the 20 per cent of medical scientist posts left vacant in hospitals, more support for training and education, and recognition of the increasing workload of laboratory diagnostics.

Senior HSE official Liam Woods had said last week the dispute had to be resolved immediately as the health service could not afford to allow a break in services for two days this week.

Mr Woods said the impact of the first one-day stoppage last Wednesday had been “immediate and severe”.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.