Saturday 24 August 2019

6,000 face cancellations as three-day strike looms

The industrial action is affecting patient and client services across 38 hospitals and healthcare facilities (Brian Lawless/PA)
The industrial action is affecting patient and client services across 38 hospitals and healthcare facilities (Brian Lawless/PA)

Anne-Marie Walsh and Eilish O'Regan

More than 6,000 hospital patients are at risk of having their treatments and procedures cancelled as striking health staff vow to ramp up their pay row with a three-day walkout next week.

Siptu is also threatening to escalate the industrial action even further with a five-day stoppage between Monday and Friday the following week.

It follows yesterday's damaging strike action by 10,000 healthcare support staff in 38 hospitals, which led to thousands of patients having surgeries and investigations cancelled.

Hospital emergency consultants warned a three-day strike would pose serious dangers to patients in A&E departments and could not be tolerated.

Spokeswoman Dr Emily O'Conor, A&E consultant in Connolly Hospital Dublin, said it was very hard to maintain services yesterday despite all staff stepping in to do duties such as cleaning up vomit and bodily fluids, and bringing blood products to resuscitation patients.

"For parts of the hospital that cannot postpone care the three-day strike cannot happen. If it does, emergency departments need a derogation," she warned.

But the dispute may worsen as 24-hour strikes are scheduled next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and industrial action could spread to 58 hospitals and healthcare facilities by the end of next month.

All the children's hospitals and care of the elderly and intellectual disability facilities could be hit as the union has threatened to ballot another 10,000 staff for strike action.

The first 24-hour strike by staff, including porters, healthcare assistants and chefs, led to 2,000 patients having appointments for surgery, scope investigations and outpatient care postponed.

Managers, doctors and nurses had to help feed patients and transfer them between wards.

Families spent hours providing care to loved ones and brought in meals from home to supplement the sandwiches and soup that some hospitals were reduced to serving.

Siptu health divisional organiser Paul Bell warned that next week's strikes will not be deferred despite fresh talks at the Workplace Relations Commission today.

He also revealed that the union plans to escalate industrial action to a five-day strike the following week, and warned that contingency cover may not be as generous.

"The three strikes next week are extremely likely to go ahead. If we ballot, all of the children's hospitals, care of the elderly facilities and intellectual disability facilities will be included. We are talking about probably another 10,000 people," he said. "It will take some moderation of the employer's attitude to make progress."

He accused the Government of attempting to dismantle a job evaluation process that is at the core of the dispute.

The support staff want pay rises between €1,500 and €3,000 they say they are due under the assessment.

"It's more serious than money at this stage," he added.

He said the Department of Public Expenditure wants to change the evaluation scheme so those moving to a higher payscale would only jump one increment rather than two.

The union says €19m is due but only €1.2m was offered. Government sources insisted more than €7m was on the table.

Siptu may be seizing an opportunity to assert itself after the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation scored a major victory with a deal worth more than €35m following strikes earlier this year.

But the Government wants to rein in its pay bill that is set to peak at €18.7bn this year, €1bn higher than last year.

Irish Independent

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