Tuesday 16 July 2019

Health staff walkout: Patients told 'bring your own sandwiches for strike', surgeon reveals

  • Some 10,000 health staff walk off the job today
  • The pay dispute is in 38 hospitals and health facilities
  • Chefs, laboratory aides, porters and healthcare assistants will mount pickets
Staff picket at St Vincent Hospital in Dublin
Staff picket at St Vincent Hospital in Dublin

Eilish O'Regan and Anne-Marie Walsh

THOUSANDS of hospital patients must survive on cold food today and others have been asked to "bring your own sandwich" as 10,000 health staff walk off the job.

The strike by support workers including porters, chefs and healthcare assistants has led to the cancellation of surgery and vital diagnostic procedures for most waiting list patients.

The pay dispute in 38 hospitals and health facilities will also hit kitchen facilities, leaving patients without a cooked meal.

"My patients are due to come in on Wednesday for surgery on Thursday and because there are no catering facilities have been told to bring a sandwich with you," said Fergus Byrne, orthopaedic surgeon in Merlin Park Galway.

A spokesman for University of Limerick Hospitals Group confirmed: "Many patients will be served soup, sandwiches and salads rather than a full meal service. Special arrangements are in place for patients with specific dietary requirements."

The pay dispute led by Siptu, which has left hospitals struggling with emergency cover, looked deadlocked after a breakdown of talks on Monday.

Chefs, laboratory aides, porters and healthcare assistants will mount pickets during a 24-hour strike. The strike gets underway at 8am on Wednesday.

Hospitals have had to cancel almost all non-emergency surgery although many outpatient clinics will go ahead.

The initial response from the Government was that the increase would be paid in 2021 when all the stages of the evaluation are complete.

The Taoiseach says that in order to come to a deal the Government had agreed to phase-in these pay increases from November 2019, “out of good will”, in an effort to resolve the dispute, which was not accepted by the union.

Siptu Health Divisional Organiser Paul Bell said the trade union would prefer a negotiated settlement that does not impact on patient services.

“Unfortunately, we have run out of time and too many issues remain unresolved,” he said.

“Siptu members have acted in good faith at all times during this dispute including by deferring two days of strike action.

“We believe that the Government has abused the conciliation process and never meaningfully engaged with Siptu representatives. Some 16.2 million euro is owed to our members yet the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has only offered 1.2 million euro to resolve this dispute.

“Furthermore, the department has attempted to frustrate this process by seeking to unilaterally change a crucial element of the job evaluation scheme which centres on the assimilation of pay to new grades as awarded under this independent process.

“A 24-hour strike will go ahead, as our members continue to pursue their legitimate claim for recognition, respect and pay justice.”

The first strike, which was due to take place last week, was called off to allow for further talks, however discussions at the Workplace Relations Commission failed, and the union has since refused the Government’s offer of taking the matter to the Labour Court.

The HSE said it is continuing to engage on contingency planning with Siptu at local hospital and healthcare facility level.

“This is to ensure minimum disruption to patient services, in so far as possible, and to ensure patient dignity and that essential daily care remains in place,” a spokeswoman said.

READ MORE: 10,000 staff over 24 hours: Everything you need to know about the hospital support staff strike

Irish Independent

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