By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA
Hundreds of medical scientists are taking part in industrial action across the country over pay and retention issues after negotiations with the HSE and Department of Health failed to bring about a resolution.
The strike action involves the withdrawal of routine laboratory services, such as the analysing of blood and urine samples, scans and other tests, from 8am to 8pm, which is affecting routine hospital and GP services across the country.
Andrea Byrne Fitzgerald, a union representative at Naas General Hospital, told the PA news agency that medical scientists had worked “very hard” through the pandemic and a cyber attack.
“I have colleagues who doubled up for very, very little reward afterwards.
“You could end up doing 24-hour shifts three or four times a week if your colleagues are sick.”
She said that the main issue is the discrepancies between the pay of other scientists who do the same job as medical scientists.
“We have two different qualifications: it’s clinical biochemists, and then we have medical laboratory scientists.
“The medical laboratory scientists that are working within the biochemistry laboratory are getting paid less starting out than the biochemists, and also the biochemists do have a better career path on top of that.”
A protester at Tallaght University Hospital Bronagh Maguire told the PA news agency that most medical scientists have “at least one masters, some people have two, other people have PhDs”.
“We’re all very qualified and very experienced, and bring a high level of expertise to our jobs and our roles that we do and it’s not being recognised.”
Ms Maguire said that negotiations with the government to resolve these issues were meant to start just before the Covid pandemic struck in 2020.
“Instead of that, we ended up being in here, doing testing for Covid – unprecedented levels of work, an unprecedented drain on our resources which we’ve never really fully recovered from.”
The Medical Laboratory Scientists Association (MLSA) chairperson Kevin O’Boyle said that up to 20 per cent of medical scientist roles in public hospitals are unfilled, and that this problem was “worsening”.
“Medical scientists carry out identical work to other colleagues in hospital laboratories, yet are paid on average 8 per cent less.
“Medical Scientists have fewer career development opportunities and less training and education supports than comparable colleagues.
“Against this, the role for laboratory diagnostics is expanding with increasing responsibility and workloads,” Mr O’Boyle said.
“It is not sustainable to continue like this.”
The industrial action comes after rounds of talks with the HSE, the Department of Health, and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform failed to bring about a resolution.
Medical scientists were involved in the rollout and increase of capacity of the State’s Covid testing system during the pandemic.
Speaking at the Oireachtas Health Committee on Wednesday, HSE chief Paul Reid said the strike action was having a “significant impact” on healthcare services.
“I’d like to recognise again, and have done very publicly, the role they have played through Covid-19 has been phenomenal.
“The response and the sacrifices they and many other healthcare workers have made has been exemplary.”
Mr Reid said that the National Diagnostic Reference Levels capacity of about 600 tests a week at the start of the pandemic, which was increased to 300,000 Covid-19 tests over the course of the pandemic.
The MLSA said that the “vast majority” of its 2,100 members are on picket lines on Wednesday.
In November, 98 per cent of MLSA members voted in favour of taking industrial action.
If no progress is made with the Government, a further two days of industrial action are planned for the end of May and the beginning of June.