- 18 May 22
"Labs are critical to the effective running of the healthcare service - but there’s a measure of anger now among members that we’ve got to this stage."
Significant disruptions to medical testing are expected as laboratory scientists across Ireland commence their planned strike. It is the first of six planned days of industrial action. The strike is a long anticipated act of desperation from Ireland's overworked and underpaid laboratory workers.
A written statement from the MLSA declares: "The MLSA [Medical Laboratory Scientist Association] has made every effort to avoid taking industrial action, because of the serious impact it will have on the health service and on patient care, and to protect benefits already held by members.
However despite lengthy negotiations, it has not been possible to secure a mechanism to resolve our claim and it is now clear that without industrial action we cannot achieve our longstanding goal and rightful expectation of parity with clinical biochemists, as recommended by the 2001 Expert Group and accepted by the HSE and Department of Health."
More than 2,000 medical scientists are involved in the industrial action, which centres on a number of issues, including a demand for pay parity. The union has reported that the pay for medical scientists is 8% less than what biochemist colleagues earn carrying out the same work.
The HSE [Health Service Executive] has said that up to 14,000 outpatient appointments across the country will be cancelled. Some services will continue including emergency care, dialysis, and some cancer services. No further statements have been made to address the primary points of concern.
Speaking to The Journal, MLSA's General Secretary Terry Casey acknowledged that the disruptions will “regrettably have an impact, but after 20 years of trying to resolve these issues, medical scientists feel it is necessary.”
“I have to stress that they’re proud healthcare workers, they want to be in the lab assisting with the diagnosis and treatment of patients, labs are critical to the effective running of the healthcare service but there’s a measure of anger now among members that we’ve got to this stage."
In 2001, an expert group report reported that medical scientists should have pay equal to biochemists. This was implemented for two short months before being lost in the public service benchmarking process back in 2002.
“That was something the association had been working on for ten to 15 years prior to that, so for us to get it and then have it taken away again was a huge disappointment,” Casey said. “This is fundamentally about equal pay for equal work.”
The recruitment and retention crisis - a growing issue across all healthcare sectors - is also fuelling frustration and burnout. Up to 20% of approved medical scientists posts are unfilled in hospitals.
“Most disciplines have to be covered 24/7 and 365 days a year so that requires staff to work on call at nights and weekends. Some people are nearly spending more time in the lab than they are in their own homes,” he said.
Last November, a ballot of MLSA members revealed 98% voted in favour of taking the action.
Today's strike is the first of six to take place during May and June. The MLSA has warned that if the action is ineffective, 24 May and 25 May will see the same measures taken, with three further strikes planned for 31 May, 1 June, and 2 June.
The HSE received further backlash last weekend with protests breaking out at the National Maternity Hospital.
On the picket line outside St Vincent’s Hospital. I’ve been speaking to medical scientists striking over long-standing pay + development issues. HSE warns of significant disruption + delays in hospitals. Coming up 8.20am @morningireland pic.twitter.com/Ws599GjECd
— Una Kelly (@UnaKelly3) May 18, 2022