More than 2,000 patients affected by 24-hour work stoppage

Talks to take place on Thursday in an attempt to avert three more strikes by health staff

More than 2,000 patients had scheduled procedures, appointments or operations cancelled in hospitals across the country as a result of the strike on Wednesday by health service support staff, the HSE has said.

Talks will begin Thursday in an attempt to avert a series of further strikes scheduled to take place next week.

The trade union Siptu, which represents the workers concerned, said it had accepted an invitation from the Workplace Relations Commission to attend further talks on Thursday morning.

However, the union said that three days of work stoppages scheduled to take place on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of next week had not been deferred.


About 10,000 health service support staff such as health care assistants, maternity care assistants, porters, laboratory aides, chefs and surgical instrument technicians staged a 24-hour strike on Wednesday over what the union said was a failure by the Government to implement the findings of a job evaluation scheme.

The union maintained that the findings of the evaluation could be worth between €1,500 and €3,000 for its members.

Siptu health division organiser Paul Bell said on Wednesday: "We have accepted the invitation from the Workplace Relations Commission to attend talks tomorrow.

“The 24-hour strike will continue today and the planned three days of strike action due to take place next week... [would] proceed if we do not resolve this dispute,” he said.

‘Huge turnout’

“We are greatly encouraged by the huge turnout of members on picket lines at 38 hospitals across the country today. We also appreciate the support of the public, including patients and visitors to the hospitals, and of our colleagues in the health service.”

Minister for Health Simon Harris welcomed the convening of the new talks in an attempt to resolve the health service support staff dispute.

He said the consistent message from Government was that sitting around a table and talking was the way to resolve this dispute.

“The last thing patients need is more disruption so I do very much welcome the fact that this will take place tomorrow,” he said.

Mr Harris said on Wednesday that he had been very disappointed and frustrated that Siptu had gone ahead with the strike without first taking its case to the Labour Court.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar also urged Siptu to go to the Labour Court to try find a resolution.

The HSE said that the strike, which affected 38 hospitals, had been challenging for its services.

Disruption to patients

“So far we are aware of in excess of 2,000 cancellations today including surgical procedures, scope procedures and outpatient appointments,” it said on Wednesday evening.

“However, in considering the extent of the impact of the strike on patients, we also need to consider the disruption to patients who are already in our care on hospital wards.

“Hospitals are facing challenges in maintaining essential daily care for our inpatients such as nutrition, hydration, transfer of patients, cleaning and infection control,” the HSE added.

The Taoiseach said the Government did not want to impose financial penalties on health service staff for going on strike.

Under financial emergency legislation, the Government can impose penalties on groups of workers deemed to have gone outside the public service agreement such as deferral of incremental pay rises.

Such penalties were imposed on second-level teachers after a strike in 2016 but not on nurses on foot of their recent dispute.

Mr Varadkar said: “The public sector pay agreement is clear that if a union breaches that, penalties can be imposed but that is certainly not what Government wants to do.

“Government wants to resolve this strike and we have offered a hearing at the Labour Court to try and resolve it. I would issue an invitation and appeal to unions involved to come to the Labour Court where we can sort this out.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent