Thousands more hospital outpatient appointments will be canceled next week after the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association (MLSA) confirmed its intention to go back on strike on Tuesday and Wednesday to seek action. which, according to the union, are necessary to address a chronic recruitment and retention crisis in the sector stemming from low wages.
Terry Casey, general secretary of the MLSA, said he has done everything he can to avoid disruptions to healthcare patients and co-workers.
However, he insists that the medical scientists were left with no choice but to continue their strike after their day of action earlier this week failed to achieve the required result.
Mr Casey said Saturday with Philip Boucher Hayes on RTÉ Radio 1, that they are taking action out of frustration over long-standing pay and career development issues.
“We engaged with HSE but unfortunately there has been no progress in terms of discussions to respond to the dispute. We have had some informal discussions with the WRC and the HSE who are concerned about the dispute escalating this week, where there will be a two-day stoppage on Tuesday and again on Wednesday.”
About 14,000 procedures are reported to have been canceled as a result of last week’s industrial day of action. Mr. Casey emphasizes that emergency coverage will be provided on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“All urgent and non-extendable tests will be processed. It is similar to what would be provided outside of hours after midnight. And we have worked hard with the HSE to ensure the contingency is in place.”
Casey says that if no resolution is found by the end of next week, his members will have no choice but to strike for three days the following week.
However, he admits that there is hope that the issue can move forward.
“That is why we are unfortunately taking the industrial action. This is a 20 year old complaint that we have not been able to resolve through all the processes we have been through. We just found nothing.
“They (medical scientists) are really not taking this action lightly. They know and regret the impact it is having on services. We hope we can move forward, but right now it doesn’t feel like we’re in a space to do that.”
On picket lines across the country earlier this week, medical scientists complained about what they see as a discrepancy in their pay and that of other scientists who are in the same job as them. They say that medical laboratory scientists who work in the biochemistry lab are paid less than biochemists.
MLSA President Kevin O’Boyle said medical scientists do identical work to their peers in hospital labs, but are paid an average of 8 percent less. They also have less training and educational support than their comparable colleagues.
He says that up to 20 percent of medical scientist positions are unfilled in public hospitals and this problem is getting worse.
“It is not sustainable to continue like this. We need an effective work structure for this profession that can secure and retain the required staffing levels. Solving these problems will benefit patients and the efficiency of the health services they receive.”
It is understood that biochemists who work only in biochemistry earn more than medical scientists who work in the entire laboratory. Young medical scientists who work as lab assistants while studying also find themselves taking a pay cut when they qualify.
The MLSA has 2,100 members and the vast majority are ready to return to the picket line next week. It is only the second time in the sector’s 60-year history that action has been taken.
Medical scientists have also raised concerns about young professionals in their field leaving the profession for more lucrative pay and better conditions in the pharmaceutical industry.