Thousands more hospital appointments set to be cancelled due to industrial action

Union representing medical scientists says there has been ‘no progress’ on issue of pay

Thousands more hospital outpatient appointments are set to be cancelled next week after the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association (MLSA) confirmed its intention to strike again on Tuesday and Wednesday in pursuit of measures the union says are required to address a chronic recruitment and retention crisis in the sector arising out of poor pay.

Terry Casey, General Secretary of the MLSA, said it has made every effort to avoid disruption to patients and fellow healthcare workers.

However, he insists medical scientists have been left with no alternative but to continue their strike after their day of action earlier this week failed to achieve the required result.

Mr Casey told Saturday with Philip Boucher Hayes on RTÉ Radio 1, that they are taking action in frustration over long-standing pay and career development issues.

“We did engage with the HSE but there has been no progress in terms of the discussions to response the dispute unfortunately. We have had some informal discussions with the WRC and the HSE who themselves are concerned with the escalation of the dispute into this week where there will be a stoppage for two days on Tuesday and Wednesday once again.”

Around 14,000 procedures are reported to have been cancelled as a result last week’s one day of industrial action. Mr Casey emphasises that emergency cover will be provided on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“All urgent and non-deferrable tests will be processed. It is akin to what would be provided out of hours post midnight. And we have worked hard with the HSE to ensure that contingency is in place.”

Mr Casey says if no resolution is found by the end of next week their members will be left with no choice but to strike for three days the following week.

However, he admits that there hope is that the issue can be moved forward.

“That is why we are regretfully taking the industrial action. This is a 20 year grievance that we have been unable to resolve through all the processes we have been through. We have just come up with nought.

“They (medical scientists) are really are not taking this action lightly. They know and regret the impact it is having on services. We hope we can move it forward but at this juncture it doesn’t seem we are in a space to do that.”

Discrepancy

At picket lines throughout the country earlier this week medical scientists complained at what they regard as a discrepancy in their pay and that of other scientists who are in the same job as them. They say medical laboratory scientists working within the biochemistry laboratory are getting paid less starting out than biochemists.

MLSA chairperson Kevin O’Boyle indicated that medical scientists carry out identical work to other colleagues in hospital laboratories, yet are paid on average 8 per cent less. They also have less training and educational supports than comparable colleagues.

He says that up to 20 percent of medical scientist posts are unfilled in public hospitals and this problem is worsening.

“It is not sustainable to continue like this. We need an effective work structure for this profession which can secure and retain the staffing levels required. Resolving these issues will benefit patients and the efficiency of the health services they receive.”

It is understood that biochemists who work only in biochemistry earn more than medical scientists who work across the laboratory. Young medical scientists who work as laboratory aides whilst studying also find themselves taking a pay cut when they qualify.

The MLSA has 2,100 members with the vast majority set to return to the picket line next week. It is only the second time in the sectors’ 60 year history that action has been taken.

Medical scientists have also expressed concern about young professionals in their field leaving the profession for more lucrative pay and better conditions in the pharmaceutical industry.