Overworked medical scientists warn of burnout as testing requirements increase

Overworked medical scientists warn of burnout as testing requirements increase

As testing increases, so too does the pressure on medical scientists, with some working 14 hour days. File picture: Getty Image

Overworked medical scientists are warning of burnout as the increased demands of Covid-19 testing meets with seasonal illness coming into the winter.

The union representing the profession has called for pay parity, competitive entry-level salaries, and an outline for career progression as a matter of urgency.

The severe shortage in recruitment and retention could become a national crisis amid the need for increased levels of testing in the coming months, medical scientists have warned.

Almost 62,000 tests were processed across 46 labs last week, according to HSE head Paul Reid, with over 850,000 tests carried out since the outbreak of the pandemic. The HSE has the capacity to carry out 100,000 tests per week if needed, with turnaround times falling, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said.

Social media has been awash with testimonies from medical scientists in recent days who say the level of Covid-19 testing in Irish hospitals cannot be sustained unless testing of other samples is to diminish. It is at breaking point, according to one prominent medical scientist, while others have described working 14-hour shifts on some days.

Because the testing for Covid-19 is so specialised, with fully qualified experts also having to implement social distancing among other measures, medical scientists say they are working way beyond regular hours and that it cannot be sustained.

Medical Laboratory Scientists Association (MLSA) chairperson Kevin O’Boyle said something had to give or the critical nature of the work being done by the more than 2,500 medical scientists would suffer.

Attracting talent to the profession, as well as retention, were major issues, he told the Irish Examiner.

Biochemists and medical scientists do very similar work but medical scientists are paid up to 20% less. We should see the same pay, as well as options to progress. 

"Entry-level salaries are not competitive, as evidenced by nearly half of medical science graduates not entering the profession, with 30% going into pharma.

“If we can address pay parity as a matter of urgency, as well as holding onto our very recent graduates with competitive pay, that would have an immediate impact, we believe. This is a priority for the country, not just the profession,” he said.

Career progression is also a major barrier, Mr O’Boyle said, with many leaving the profession or not entering it at all because they see a low ceiling as to how they can develop in their roles.

There are approximately 2,500 medical scientists employed in Ireland in public hospital laboratories and private hospitals. Around 70% of medical scientists in Ireland have a Master’s degree and/or a PhD.

The Department of Health met with the MLSA in June and again in August. 

"The department is considering the issues raised and will engage with DPER in this regard," it said.

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