14,000 procedures cancelled as medical scientists strike over pay inequality

14,000 procedures cancelled as medical scientists strike over pay inequality

Members of the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association on picket line duty outside the Cork University Hospital. Picture: Dan Linehan

A hospital laboratory had just one application for three posts this month as pay inequalities for medical scientists discourage people from taking these roles, it has been claimed.

Disputes over salary issues and working conditions led to strikes at hospitals yesterday, with around 14,000 procedures cancelled due to lack of access to routine tests.

This follows breakdown of talks between the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association (MLSA), the HSE, and Department of Health.

 Niamh Rock, Jennifer Horgan, Deirdre Kirrane, Catherine Dempsey, and Denise Cronin, all members of the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association on picket line duty outside the Cork University Hospital. Picture: Dan Linehan
Niamh Rock, Jennifer Horgan, Deirdre Kirrane, Catherine Dempsey, and Denise Cronin, all members of the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association on picket line duty outside the Cork University Hospital. Picture: Dan Linehan

Chief medical scientist at St Luke’s Hospital in Kilkenny, Liz Whitney, said pay parity issues have made recruitment impossible.

“I’m recruiting at the moment," she said. 

We had interviews last week for basic grade posts. There were three posts available and there was one candidate, and that was it.” 

She said a “procedural error” during public sector pay processes in 2002, which gave some workers in hospital laboratories 8% higher wages than others, needs to be reversed.

Biochemists who work only in biochemistry earn more than medical scientists who work across the laboratory, as do laboratory aides who have less responsibility.

This means young medical scientists who work as laboratory aides while studying take a pay cut when they qualify, she said.

 Members of the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association on picket line duty outside the Mercy Hospital, Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan
Members of the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association on picket line duty outside the Mercy Hospital, Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

The strike was given “great support” by staff and patients, she said, adding: “We have come this far now, we won’t back down.”

MLSA general secretary Terry Casey said the strike was “regrettable”.

“Positions are pretty fixed on the employer side,” he said. 

We were in the Workplace Relations Committee yesterday, and we haven’t moved any further than when we first engaged on this.”

He is hopeful the HSE will negotiate again and said the scientists are “pretty resolute”.

Talks began in 2020, but where shelved when the pandemic hit. They restarted under the public service agreement ‘Building Momentum’ process and he said they met the Public Service Agreement Group (PSAG) twice since January.

Yesterday HSE director of acute operations Liam Woods told the Oireachtas health committee the strike had an “immediately disabling” impact. He predicted “really serious consequences” for patients if the dispute is not resolved.

Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane said, at the same hearing, that the committee should write to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly on the issue.

The Irish Patient’s Association's Stephen McMahon also wants the minister to intervene, and called for an investigation into how the industrial relations process failed.

“The important thing for the public is that individual patients are affected," he said.

It is not the staff who are to blame, it is the whole process falling over.”

 Members of the Pathology (MLSA Union) on a Day long Strike at University Hospital Limerick. Picture Brendan Gleeson
Members of the Pathology (MLSA Union) on a Day long Strike at University Hospital Limerick. Picture Brendan Gleeson

A Department of Health spokesman said on May 11 the PSAG “recommended that the matter be immediately referred to the Workplace Relations Committee and that industrial peace be maintained in the meantime”. 

He said this strike was “a breach of Building Momentum”.

A HSE spokeswoman said delayed turnaround times for results are expected on Thursday and Friday. 

“Appointments and procedures disrupted by today’s industrial action will be rescheduled as soon as possible,” she said.

A statement by the South/South West Hospital Group said: "Many emergency departments are very busy resulting in ongoing delays in many hospitals.

"While the industrial action ended at 8pm yesterday and lab services are returning to normal a build-up of demand for tests is likely to result in delayed turnaround times for both hospital and GP requested tests throughout today and tomorrow."

It was added that "all efforts will be made to minimise the impact of this disruption to services" and appointments and procedures disrupted will be rescheduled as soon as possible.

Demonstrators at a protest by medical scientists taking strike action outside Naas General Hospital. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Demonstrators at a protest by medical scientists taking strike action outside Naas General Hospital. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

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