The chairperson of the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association (MLSA) has said the nationwide strike organised by its members aims to improve conditions for future medical scientists entering the profession.
The MLSA has commenced its first of six potential strikes over the coming weeks in order to address inequalities facing medical scientists in terms of working conditions and pay.
Routine laboratory services were suspended for the duration of the working day by most medical scientists nationwide.
Kevin O’ Boyle, chair of the union, said that while disruption to medical services is highly regrettable, the vacancies and pressures within the sector have made striking unavoidable.
“The conditions are so poor for medical scientists that our graduates don’t want to work in the profession,” he said.
“This has led to a highly predictable staffing crisis within hospital laboratories.
“It has put huge pressure on the existing staff because laboratories have to be open 24/7, 365 days a year.”
The contention over pay within the sector has remained unresolved for over 20 years.
An expert group report issued in 2001 recommended that medical scientists be paid the same rate as their biochemist colleagues on the basis that they essentially carry out the same work.
The salary of a medical scientist is on average 8% less than that of a biochemist’s.
Mr O’ Boyle states that the situation needs to improve to ensure hospital laboratories can retain young graduates, who he believes do a fantastic job.
Recent CAO figures show it is a highly sought after university course, with a staggering 578 points being required for admission to the medical and health science programme in University College Cork (UCC).
However, many graduates are discouraged from joining hospital laboratories due to the pay issue and as a result are attracted to the pharmaceutical sector, Mr O’ Boyle believes.
“There are a lot of companies that would snatch up these brilliant graduates in a second. We need to keep them to ensure we can provide the important services patients need,” he said.
The disruption to medical services will arguably worsen as the industrial action proceeds, with two and three day strikes scheduled over the next fortnight. GP services have already abandoned routine testing services for the day as a result of the strike action.
Mr O’ Boyle added that consultants and hospital management alike have generally been encouraging towards the MSLA members taking to the picket line.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations with consultants over the strike. They’re very put out by the disruption that’s happening today but they’re also so supportive of us. They’re calling for this to get sorted so we can get back to assisting our patients again,” he added.
The next strike day is scheduled to take place on May 24 if no resolution occurs.
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