'If things don’t change we won’t have medical scientists' say strikers at Cork University Hospital

Medical scientists say they are striking to protect the future of the profession
'If things don’t change we won’t have medical scientists' say strikers at Cork University Hospital

Members of the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association picketing for pay parity and equal career progression opportunities outside Cork University Hospital. Picture: Denis Minihane

‘You’re simply the best,’ blasted from a passing car radio as the driver beeped his horn and saluted striking medical scientists outside Cork University Hospital.

Although the strike has meant that tens of thousands of medical procedures and appointments are being cancelled nationally, many passing motorists were in loud support of the strikers, car horns repeatedly beeping and drivers giving thumbs up to the scientists.

None of these highly qualified, high achievers want to be striking but after 20 years calling for pay parity with other colleagues, they have been left with no choice, Eileen Hurley, medical scientist and CUH representative for the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association (MLSA), the union that represents medical scientists, said.

"We feel like we’ve been left with no other choice. We’ve been fighting for a long time to have the pay parity that was promised over 20 years ago, back in 2001.

“This was given momentarily but was withdrawn months later due to a procedural error in benchmarking. So some of our colleagues side by side do the same work but get paid 8% more than us. We don’t think this is fair and we want our money that is due. Equal pay for equal work.” 

She said scientists are now striking to protect the future of the profession.

“It [our work] is critical. We are only out here because we’re worried about the profession.

“We want highly skilled people working in hospital laboratories in 10 years to come, to maybe deal with the next Covid pandemic.

If we don’t stand up for our profession now, I fear that some of the young and skilled will be no longer with us and we won’t have the expertise left. Everyone would lose out.

“Nationally, we’re failing to fill about 20% of the posts. This is a chronic problem, it’s been going on the past five or six years. The people who are working are feeling burned out. They really put their shoulder to the wheel through the Covid-19 pandemic and thought we’d be rewarded with what we were due. But now we just feel forgotten. Enough is enough, pay parity now.” 

Eileen Hurley, right, medical scientist and CUH representative for the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association said scientists are now striking to protect the future of the profession. Picture Denis Minihane
Eileen Hurley, right, medical scientist and CUH representative for the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association said scientists are now striking to protect the future of the profession. Picture Denis Minihane

The majority of some 200 medical scientists in CUH have joined the strike, Ms Hurley said.

But skeleton staff have remained in the laboratories to process critical and emergency tests.

Consultant doctors came down to stand with strikers on their lunch breaks and lend support.

Norma Reidy, clinical medical scientist in CUH’s haematology department, said staff recruitment and retention is now so difficult that filling rosters in critically important laboratories is becoming “impossible”.

 “I manage one of the laboratories inside and trying to get people to fill rosters is becoming impossible. The lab is open every minute of every day, we work 24/7, 365 days a year, which means that there has to be a scientist on site.

“You have 20% of posts not filled. Scientists are covering weekends, night shifts, more often than they should be in order to provide a service.

“I’d be concerned that we’re losing scientists.

“They come in to do medical laboratory science and see that pay parity is not that of colleagues in other laboratories and they leave. So we’re finding it difficult to recruit people and to retain them.

Norma Reidy, Bernadette O'Donovan and Niamh Fleming outside CUH. Picture: Denis Minihane
Norma Reidy, Bernadette O'Donovan and Niamh Fleming outside CUH. Picture: Denis Minihane

“And there are more promotional opportunities in other professions. About 60% can’t progress. These are highly educated scientists who are getting over 500, 550 points in their Leaving Cert. 

"They’re highly qualified and high achievers and because of pay and disparity in hospitals, they’re going elsewhere — industry and other areas. It’s going on 20 years, we’re now at a critical point.

“If things don’t change we won’t have medical scientists.” 

Bernadette O’Donovan, medical laboratory scientist with the haematology laboratory in CUH, also said persistent understaffing was a huge concern.

“At present, one in five medical scientist positions are vacant because we cannot recruit medical scientists into the profession at the current pay rates.

“We have been looking for pay parity for 20 years.

“We are dedicated to excellent patient care as medical scientists. We provided Covid testing. Every blood test, every biopsy is done by medical scientists. We do not want to be here but we’ve exhausted all other avenues.” 

Patient support

All patients the Irish Examiner spoke to entering and exiting the hospital supported the scientists and their strike.

“They need more pay, it’s a disgrace,” Anne Cronin said as she left the hospital.

“I support their action,” Colette Riney said. “It’s not fair and it doesn’t make sense. The work they do is so important.” 

“I heard that this dispute is going on a long time,” Donnie White said. “It’s such an important job and it’s very pressurised. They deserve our support.” 

Strikers also picketed outside the Mercy University Hospital in Cork.

Patrick Naughton, medical scientist with the Mercy, said pay parity was something everyone should strive for in the workplace.

“We’re picketing today to let the public know that we’re looking for pay parity for parallel grades in the biochemistry department,” he said.

“We’re also looking for the same career opportunities. We think that this would benefit the Irish health service and ultimately the Irish patients.”

More in this section

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day. PS ... We would love to hear your feedback on the section right HERE.

Puzzles logo
IE-logo

Puzzles hub

Visit our brain gym where you will find simple and cryptic crosswords, sudoku puzzles and much more. Updated at midnight every day. PS ... We would love to hear your feedback on the section right HERE.

logo podcast

War of Independence Podcast

A special four-part series hosted by Mick Clifford

Available on
www.irishexaminer.com/podcasts

IE logo

Commemorating 100 years since the War of Independence

IE_logo_newsletters

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox

LOTTO RESULTS

Saturday, July 2, 2022

  • 1
  • 15
  • 17
  • 21
  • 34
  • 42
  • 47

Full Lotto draw results »