Update: Siptu returning to talks tomorrow in attempt to resolve hospital support staff dispute

Update: Siptu returning to talks tomorrow in attempt to resolve hospital support staff dispute
Strikers on the picket. Picture: Provision

Update 5.30pm:Talks aimed at averting three days of strike action by thousands of health support staff will reconvene at the Workplace Relations Commission tomorrow.

Siptu, which represents the 10,000 support staff that went on strike yesterday, said it has accepted an invitation for further discussion but the union has not ruled out further stoppages next week.

Currently, three days of action are planned for next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

The dispute stems from a pay claim. Siptu said its members are entitled to increases of approximately €2,000 as a result of the findings of a job evaluation scheme. It rejected a proposal for the phased payment of this money which would start in November and run until 2021.

Among the striking staff are health care assistants, maternity care assistants, laboratory aides, chefs, and surgical instrument technicians, as well as porters and cleaners.

Health Minister Simon Harris said the country "can't have more days" of strike action and stoppages.

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, Mr Harris said the government wants to resolve the dispute.

"I believe it can happen, it must happen," he said.

"The place to move is at the WRC or the Labour Court, not the picket line. These people are an integral part of the health service. I don't think that anyone wants next week to go ahead."

Mr Harris said the full impact of the strike wouldn't be known until the industrial action was over.

He said local contingency plans would have to be put in place if next week's action does proceed. It would mean more cancellations, an impact on patient movement in hospitals and the provision of cold food instead of warm food, he added.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the Government does not want to impose financial penalties on the staff for going on strike.

"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," the Taoiseach said.

"Government wants to resolve this strike and we have offered a hearing at the Labour Court to try and resolve it."

The HSE described the first 24-hour strike as a challenging situation that had "a significant impact" on patient services at 38 hospitals and healthcare centres.

"Essential daily care", including nutrition, hydration, patient transfer, cleaning and infection control, were all impacted, according to the HSE.

Approximately 2,000 appointments and procedures, including surgeries, scopes and outpatient appointments, had been cancelled.

Anne O’Connor, deputy director general of the HSE, said there had been a “significant impact” as a result of the industrial action at 38 sites around the county.

She said there had been a lot of goodwill and cooperation from staff but that difficulties had arisen when it came to the moving and feeding of patients, but that there was no need for those attending hospitals to bring their own food.

“We are providing food and feeding patients. I am not aware of any case of hot food not being available,” she told RTÉ’s News at One.

Ms O’Connor warned there would be a cumulative effect if a threatened three-day strike goes ahead next week.

Earlier by Vivienne Clarke: Patients don't need to bring food to hospital during strike, HSE deputy director general says

The deputy director general of the HSE has called on all sides in the hospital support staff dispute to “use all the mechanisms available to them” to resolve the issue.

Ann O’Connor told RTE radio’s News at One that there has been a “significant impact” from today’s industrial action at 38 sites around the county. “That’s very challenging.”

There has been a lot of goodwill and cooperation so far today, she said, but there have also been some local difficulties with regard to the moving of patients and the feeding of patients.

Ms O’Connor said that patients are being fed and there is no need for them to bring food with them as had been advised by the president of the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine, Dr Emily O’Connor.

We are providing food and feeding patients. I am not aware of any case of hot food not being available.

She urged people to see their GP or pharmacist if they were not seriously ill, but if they did need emergency care to go to the Emergency Department.

Ms O’Connor warned that there would be a cumulative effect if a threatened three day strike goes ahead next week. Over 2,000 appointments were cancelled today, many more would have to be cancelled if the dispute escalates next week.

She said that the HSE’s position on the dispute was clear, a job evaluation had been carried out, she declined to comment further and said that she hoped all the parties involved would use all the mechanisms available to find a resolution.

In the meantime a senior hospital consultant said the strike is having a "major and almost catastrophic" affect on services.

Dr Paud O'Regan, a Consultant Physician at South Tipperary General Hospital, who also spoke to RTE news, said the strike has led to the cancellation of elective surgeries, endoscopies and other diagnostic procedures.

The dispute is leading to major inconvenience for patients within hospitals and is also causing difficulties with catering and cleaning as well as bed management, he added.

Dr O'Regan described the situation as "a very bad setback" over the course of one day and warned that a three day strike next week would have a disastrous impact on health services.

It is a matter of the "gravest urgency" that the dispute is resolved before next week.

He also said that the workers involved in the strike are among the lowest paid people in the health sector and that they are entitled to the increase in pay that has been recommended after an examination of the work they do.

The HSE said the facilities affected by today's strike are busy with many patients experiencing delays.

"Feedback from our services this morning would suggest that the situation in all sites is challenging because of the range of essential services affected. However, all sites are continuing to engage locally with Siptu on contingency plans to ensure safe service provision and patient dignity, care and comfort. In this regard we wish to acknowledge the goodwill and cooperation of our staff.

"As well as facing challenges in maintaining essential daily care for our inpatients such as nutrition, hydration, transfer of patients, cleaning and infection control, emerging data would also suggest that there has been a significant number of appointment and procedure cancellations including surgical procedures, scope procedures, and outpatient appointments."

Earlier: Patients attending hospitals involved in strike advised to bring their own food just in case

Strikers picketing outside Cork University Hospital this morning. Picture: David Creedon
Strikers picketing outside Cork University Hospital this morning. Picture: David Creedon

Update 11.25am: The president of the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine (IAEM), Dr Emily O’Connor, has advised patients attending any of the 38 hospitals involved in today’s dispute to bring their own food just in case catering is affected.

She also called for a special derogation for Emergency Departments during industrial actions.

Staff at emergency departments will be attempting “to keep things turning over” today she told RTÉ radio’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show.

The delivery of care is “a huge team effort” including support staff, she added and the impact of the dispute is going to vary around the country.

It will depend on the number of staff who are members of SIPTU as some hospitals rely more on agency staff.

Dr O’Connor explained that if a critically ill patient arrives in an emergency department they will be cared for my doctors, nurses, health care assistants and porters, all of whom have a vital role to play.

Nursing staff are going to be very stretched delivering care and services that would normally be delivered by health care assistants, she added.

If you are sick or badly injured please come into your local emergency department, we will still continue to see you, but people need to be patient as delays will be significant.

For many people the cancellation of a procedure today may be the last straw and they may well end up in Emergency Departments.

Dr O’Connor said that the IAEM would like to see a derogation for emergency departments during industrial actions.

“We don't think it's reasonable that any industrial action should involve patients who are coming to Emergency Departments - we weren't able to get that in during the nurses strike or on this occasion.

"We would ask that in the future, as emergency physicians, that derogation is required for Emergency Departments.

“It's in the title – Emergency Department, we need patients with emergencies not to be involved in any strike action by health care workers.”

She said she would suggest that those who are able to bring in some food for themselves today, do so or have relatives bring in food.

“We're very hopeful, I don't think patients will go hungry on the wards. I hope not.

Update 8.57am: Donohoe urges return to Labour Court as 10,000 hospital workers strike

Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe has urged both sides in the dispute over health support staff pay to go back to the Labour Court.

10,000 hospital workers, including catering staff, porters, cleaners and technicians, from 38 hospitals and healthcare facilities, took to the picket line at 8am this morning.

The dispute has emerged between workers and the HSE over what Siptu claims is a failure to implement increases in pay for workers after a job evaluation scheme deemed the staff were underpaid.

Thousands of surgeries, inpatient procedures and outpatient appointments are expected to be cancelled today.

Mr Donohoe told RTÉ radio's Morning Ireland that the Government is available to go to the Labour Court in an effort to resolve the row.

The health support staff are all due increases next year, which they will get under the current wage agreement, he said.

Mr Donohoe said the Government wants to bring in the increases in a phased way, that is affordable and will keep the overall wage agreement in place.

He said he did not accept that the Government has reneged on its promises.

"I'm not prepared to allow the wage agreement to be unpicked bit by bit."

- additional reporting by Press Association

Earlier: Severe hospital disruptions as 10,000 workers strike

By Catherine Shanahan and Juno McEnroe

Strike action by 10,000 health care workers is to cause severe disruption to delivery of healthcare in 38 hospitals today, in a dispute that looks set to escalate.

Update: Siptu returning to talks tomorrow in attempt to resolve hospital support staff dispute

The 24-hour work stoppage, which got underway at 8am, involves workers who deliver essential services such as household, catering and portering.

Staff responsible for sterilising surgical equipment are also involved, forcing widespread cancellation of scope procedures. The dispute has hit some scheduled inpatient surgery, as well as outpatient appointments.

Laboratory services for GPs seeking blood tests on behalf of patients have been reduced, and catering services for patients and staff are also impacted.

Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) warned that paediatric services at Tallaght and Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin would be impacted, but that parents should bring their children to their appointments unless they had been told otherwise.

Two maternity hospitals in Cork and Limerick are also affected, as maternity assistants are on strike.

The dispute centres on a job evaluation scheme (JES) which examined the roles of the workers and found they were performing duties outside their original job descriptions, and were due pay increases.

Their trade union, Siptu, says €16.2m is owed. Talks at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) led to an offer of €1.2m from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER).

Leo Varadkar said in order to come to a deal, the Government had agreed to phase in pay increases from November 2019. He said pay rises being sought by the health staff were the third this year.

Mr Varadkar called on the parties to the dispute to go to the Labour Court.

However, Siptu health division organiser Paul Bell said this was a tactic to have the strike called off. He said the Government had “acted prematurely” in calling for a move to the Labour Court, as they were demanding binding arbitration when there were still issues on the table to be discussed.

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty said those striking are generally low-paid workers, and were not asking for huge increases, only what was recommended by the evaluation.

Labour Party health spokesperson, Alan Kelly, said it was “not the right of the employer to demand binding arbitration between workers from the Labour Court”.

Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin said the workers were reluctant to go the Labour Court as they did not believe the Government was taking their concerns seriously.

Three further 24-hour stoppages are planned for next week, while Siptu has also threatened to ballot workers for strike action at 20 additional hospitals if its claims are not addressed HSE national director of community operations, David Walsh, said three strike days next week would have “a very significant effect on the HSE’s ability to provide service”.

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