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More than 800 hospital procedures cancelled in the west as lab scientists strike for two more days

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Scientists striking at Bantry Hospital last week. Another two-day strike begins today. Photo: Andy Gibson

Scientists striking at Bantry Hospital last week. Another two-day strike begins today. Photo: Andy Gibson

Industrial action is expected to lead to delays for patients with non-urgent care needs in emergency departments. Photo: Stock Image

Industrial action is expected to lead to delays for patients with non-urgent care needs in emergency departments. Photo: Stock Image

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Scientists striking at Bantry Hospital last week. Another two-day strike begins today. Photo: Andy Gibson

More than 800 elective procedures will be cancelled across hospitals in the west and northwest due to this week’s two-day strike action by lab scientists.

That’s according to Tony Canavan, the head of the Saolta Hospital Group, which runs seven hospitals in the region.

Nationwide, thousands of medical procedures have been cancelled as the HSE warns of “significant disruption” during the 48-hour strike which starts today.

Hospital and GP services will be delayed as members of the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association (MLSA) ramp up industrial action in a long-running pay dispute.

The HSE said there will be significant disruption and delays in hospitals from 8am to 8pm today and tomorrow.

It is understood there are up to 14,000 outpatient appointments and 300 to 400 day procedures a day, with a significant number affected.

The medical scientists who want the same pay as clinical biochemists in hospital laboratories will refuse to carry out diagnostic testing of patient samples.

They work in public voluntary hospitals, HSE hospitals, private hospitals and the Irish Blood Transfusion Service.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme, Saolta Chief Tony Canavan said 400 elective procedures were cancelled because of last week’s one-day strike action, and that number is expected to double “at least” this week.

He said there are roughly 2,000 patients in hospital beds across the Saolta Group today and “routine testing” for these patients will also be impacted.

“There will be no routing testing on them. We rely on those tests to tell us if a patient is deteriorating and in the absence of that test, there is a risk that a patient will deteriorate and we won’t be able to respond to that quickly enough,” he said.

Mr Canavan said there is an agreement in place with the MLSA so tests from emergency departments and ICUs will be processed and the results will be provided. A derogation has also been agreed for some cancer services, including chemotherapy, but Mr Canavan confirmed that some “significant elective” cancer surgeries will be cancelled.

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He said the group will aim to reschedule all cancelled appointments as quickly as possible, but he admitted it will be “difficult”.

Mr Canavan said the lab scientist pay dispute has been going on “for a long, long time” and the negotiations are “confined to some degree” by the National Pay Agreement.

“We’re trying to find creative solutions within that to bring this strike to an end,” he said.

“To find a solution that meets the requirements of the MSLA but also works within the parameters of the national pay agreement, that’s the difficulty.

“There are many anomalies in the pay arrangements for different grades of staff and there may be merits for the argument, but whether there is or not, we are clear that this strike will be resolved at some stage. It will be resolved through discussion. We would like to get involved in that discussion as soon as we can, so we can avoid any further impact on patients.”

Mr Canavan added that the possibility of a further three-day strike action going ahead next week “doesn’t bear thinking about”.

Ahead of today’s strike, the HSE said: “This will lead to the cancellation of many inpatient and day-case elective procedures and hospital outpatient appointments across the country.”

It said all routine GP testing services will be suspended on both days and patients currently in hospital requiring tests will also be affected.

The industrial action is expected to lead to delays for patients with non-urgent care needs in emergency departments.

However, services including dialysis and some cancer services will continue.

“While efforts are continuing to try to avert this action, the HSE is working with the MLSA to ensure arrangements are in place on the days for the provision of a limited range of services safely,” the HSE said.

“Appointments and procedures disrupted by the strikes will be rescheduled as soon as possible.”

A spokesperson for the Irish Blood Transfusion Service said blood donation clinics will continue to operate as scheduled, along with testing and processing of all donor blood for hospitals.

Non-urgent patient testing services will be suspended.

Today’s two-day strike follows a one-day stoppage last week. Further strikes are planned next Tuesday to Thursday.

The MLSA said it made every effort to avoid “regrettable” disruption to patients and fellow healthcare workers but has been left with no alternative.

It said the industrial action is being taken in a dispute over unfilled posts, pay parity and career pathway issues.

The union claimed the HSE or Department of Health has made no approach for discussions since last week’s stoppage “despite comments from HSE representatives implying talks were ongoing”.

It said most of its 2,100 members will be on picket lines at all public voluntary and HSE hospitals. Members working at the Irish Blood Transfusion Service will join the pickets for the first time.

MLSA members voted by 98pc in favour of industrial action last November.

Union chairperson Kevin O’Boyle said the HSE and Department of Health are ignoring severe problems and burn out in the sector.

He said medical scientists carry out identical work to clinical biochemists in hospital laboratories but are paid on average 8pc less.

Mr O’Boyle said medical laboratory aides who report to medical scientists start on a higher salary.

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