Industrial action by medical scientists this week

Emergency departments warn of disruption to services

Deborah Condon

May 16, 2022

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  • Medical scientists are due to take industrial action this week in response to ongoing issues relating to pay and career development.

    As a result of this action, routine laboratory services will be withdrawn from 8am to 8pm on Wednesday, May 18. This will affect routine hospital and GP services nationwide.

    The majority of the country’s medical scientists work in public hospitals.

    The Medical Laboratory Scientists Association (MLSA), which is the union that represents medical scientists, insisted that it has made every effort to avoid disruption to patients and fellow healthcare workers, but it has been left with no alternative.

    The action follows many rounds of unsuccessful talks with the HSE, Department of Health, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Public Service Agreement Group.

    MLSA members were balloted on industrial action last November and an overwhelming 98% noted in favour.

    If no progress is made, a further two days of action are planned for May 24 and 25. These will then be followed by three further days of action on May 31, June 1 and June 2.

    According to MLSA chairperson, Kevin O’Boyle, there is huge frustration among medical scientists and many are experiencing burnout because of a severe recruitment and retention problem which has been ignored by the employer for many years.

    There are major issues facing these workers, for example, up to 20% of approved medical scientist posts are unfilled in hospitals placing huge pressure on those employed. Furthermore, medical scientists carry out identical work to other colleagues in hospital laboratories, yet are paid, on average, 8% less.

    Medical scientists also have fewer career development opportunities and less support for training and education than comparable colleagues. This is despite the fact that the role for laboratory diagnostics is currently expanding with increasing responsibility and workloads.

    “We need to achieve a sustainable work structure for the profession and this will benefit patients and the quality and efficiency of health services they receive,” Mr O’Boyle said.

    The MLSA is seeking meaningful talks with the HSE and Department of Health, although it emphasised that that this is a longstanding dispute which the association has made repeated efforts to resolve.

    “The MLSA’s claim for parity with clinical biochemist colleagues dates back to 2001 when an expert group report recommended pay parity between the grades. The then-awarded pay parity was lost within months as a result of an inadvertent procedural error in the first public service benchmarking awards in June 2002,” explained MLSA general secretary, Terry Casey.

    He noted that in January 2020, against a backdrop of a severe and worsening recruitment and retention crisis, the MLSA renewed its longstanding claim for parity of pay and career progression with clinical biochemists and sought engagement with the HSE and Department of Health.

    More than two years on, and after many rounds of proposals and talks, these issues have not been resolved and there is now an even more significant shortage of medical scientists nationwide.

    Responding to the news, the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine warned that Wednesday’s industrial action will result in “significant disruption to the normal functioning of all EDs”.

    “It is important that neither patients nor GPs assume that EDs are exempt from the action and attend or refer to the ED for services that will not be available during the action.

    “Medical laboratory scientists perform a crucial role in patient care and in the workings of EDs and acute hospitals. The absence of this expertise and the services these professionals provide will inevitably have a very negative impact on patient care,” the IAEM said.

    © Medmedia Publications/MedMedia News 2022