Strike threat from medical scientists who conduct hospital Covid-19 tests

Strike threat from medical scientists who conduct hospital Covid-19 tests

Industrial relations officer Bronagh O’Leary said there were not enough trained medical scientists in Ireland to run such a high number of Covid-19 tests.

Medical scientists who carry out Covid-19 tests in hospitals are preparing to reject a new Government pay deal, a move which could lead to strike action.

In October, members unanimously voted in favour of strikes – this was headed off by a last-minute Christmas pay deal offer from the Government. But the union has now decided this still does not address the crisis.

Medical Laboratory Scientists Association (MLSA) chair Kevin O’Boyle said: “An ongoing recruitment and retention crisis exists in the sector and this must be addressed to achieve a sustainable laboratory workforce.” A key issue is pay parity with other specialists working in the laboratories.

He said: “The proposed deal does not address the longstanding pay anomaly between medical scientist and clinical biochemist grades, which an expert group recommended should be paid the same salary as their work was of the same value.” 

Industrial relations officer (MLSA) Bronagh O’Leary said there simply were not enough trained medical scientists in Ireland to run such a high number of Covid-19 tests and now also maintain regular hospital testing.

Work has really increased this year, they are doing 12-hour shifts and then the same staff are on-call for the weekend surge. The labs don’t have enough staff for a five-day week, never mind seven,” 

she said.

There are an estimated 130 unfilled posts, with just 24 of these funded and advertised live on the union site this week.

Ms O’Leary said normally these roles are snapped up.

“This has never happened before. Ads are running for two weeks and not getting filled because there is such a demand everywhere around the world now for medical scientists,” she said.

Talks with the HSE through the Workplace Relations Commission opened in April but have stuttered during the pandemic.

“People are reluctantly considering striking. This is the first step, to look for a ballot on the pay agreement. It is unusual that we are hoping for a rejection of the agreement,” she said.

Two HSE attempts to boost recruitment have faltered. Streamlining job applications resulted in “moving chairs” as scientists left Dublin for labs in Galway and Cork mainly, Ms O’ Leary said.

A proposal to fast-track science graduates was not welcomed, as it would mean existing scientists training students on the job while doing their own work.

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