THE threat of strike action in public hospitals has escalated further in the wake of a decision by junior doctors to reject an invitation to resume talks on their dispute over long working hours.
The doctors, who are part of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), have served notice for strike action on Tuesday, which will hit patient services, including surgery and clinics.
The doctors want an end to shifts of more than 24 hours and the introduction of a 48-hour week by the end of next year.
Earlier this week the doctors decided not to recommend settlement proposals from the HSE to a ballot, saying they were inadequate and did not properly provide for penalties for hospitals which continued to demand shifts of more than 24 hours.
The union has now turned down an invitation to return to the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) in a bid to resume negotiations to avert the strike.
The IMO was incensed after the HSE issued a document this week to senior managers, consultants and junior doctors in hospitals which briefed them on the settlement proposals.
"The behaviour of the HSE at a critical stage in the process and in the face of a one-day strike is incomprehensible.
"Throughout the process, the IMO had consistently emphasised that doctors had no trust in the employer and that this had to be earned.
"The behaviour of the HSE in the last few days has regressed the situation, not advanced it," said the union. It also accused the HSE of inaccurately claiming doctors were demanding triple pay for hours worked beyond 24-hour shifts.
In response, the HSE said it was extremely disappointed at the IMO's decision to refuse the invitation and it called on the union to put the HSE's plan – including "new proposals" on sanctions for hospitals which breach working hour limits – to a ballot.
The HSE said it was satisfied that next Tuesday's action was completely avoidable and should be immediately deferred to allow this ballot to take place given the serious patient care and ethical implications of proceeding with strike action in these circumstances.
"In order to allow all NCHDs (non-consultant hospital doctors) to fully inform themselves, the HSE is placing its proposals regarding the resolution of the dispute on its website at www.hse.ie," it said in a statement.