Up to 50,000 patients face continued disruption from today as strikes by medical scientists continue.
An estimated 14,000 people were directly affected by a one-day strike last week, with patients due for routine tests in hospitals or out-patient clinics today and tomorrow now also missing out.
The real number could be even higher as GPs have been asked not to request routine tests and it is not clear when cancelled appointments can be rescheduled.
Patients in Cork, Kerry, Waterford, and South Tipperary have been warned of "significant disruption” by the South/SouthWest Hospital Group.
A spokeswoman for the hospital group said "widescale disruption to patients services cannot be avoided".
The Irish Patients Association’s Stephen McMahon said: “Somebody needs to take leadership on this.
He said what the medical profession calls “routine” testing can cause anxiety and upset for patients especially when cancelled.
“Patients can’t strike,” he said. “When strikes happen, it means they are not at the centre of the system, despite all the things people say.
"If patients were at the centre of the system, parties would sit around the table and negotiate.”
The strike, an escalation of a campaign over long-standing pay and career development issues, now also includes medical scientists at the Blood Transfusion Service.
A spokeswoman said blood donation clinics will continue and hospital blood orders will be processed but non-urgent testing for patients that do not require blood transfusion is suspended.
Clinical director at CervicalCheck Dr Nóirín Russell said medical scientists are “a vital part” of their team.
“When screening samples are taken, cytology labs depend on medical scientists,” she posted on social media in support of the strike, as did many senior doctors.
Chair of the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association Kevin O’Boyle said “severe problems and burnout” are being ignored.
He pointed to salary inequalities in laboratories with scientists paid 8% less than clinical biochemists while laboratory aides who report to the scientists start on a higher salary.
“All of these issues are leading to a recruitment and retention crisis,” he said. “Twenty per cent of approved hospital posts are unfilled and it is not sustainable to continue like this.”
He said resolving the problems would “benefit patients and the health services they receive".
Talks resumed in January, having paused during the pandemic. They continued up to early last week, having involved at various points the HSE, Department of Health, Public Service Agreement Group, and the Workplace Relations Commission.
The Medical Laboratory Scientists Association general secretary Terry Casey said: “Since last week’s action neither the HSE nor the Department of Health has come to us with a meaningful proposal or invitation to talks that could address the issues involved.”