Members of the MLSA at the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar this morning.

Medical scientists picket at Mullingar hospital 'in frustration'

Medical scientists at the Midland Regional Hospital Mullingar are taking industrial action today, in line with their union colleagues across the country.

Today they have withdrawn routine laboratory services from 8am to 8pm, which is affecting hospital and GP services.

The say they are acting in frustration over long-standing pay and career development issues.

The union representing medical scientists, the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association (MLSA), said they have made every effort to avoid the disruption to patients and fellow healthcare workers, but have no alternative.

MLSA have 2,100 members and the majority are on picket lines today.

The action follows unsuccessful talks with the HSE, Department of Health, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Public Service Agreement Group.

In a ballot of MLSA members last November, 98% had voted in favour of taking the action.

If no progress is made a further two days of action are planned for May 24 and 25. Three further days of action are planned for May 31, June 1 and June 2.

Mullingar hospital is the regional centre for endocrinology, immunology testing and chlamydia and gonorrhoea molecular testing.

Due to strike action, those services will not be available.

Blood transfusion, haematology and microbiology services won’t be available either, and testing for pregnant women and neonates will be reduced significantly.

GP bloods, swabs and urine samples will not be processed, which affects vulnerable populations like the elderly.

The healthcare sector can’t function without diagnostic services.

The strike action is down to a pay disparity issue that has pushed down the road for the past 20 years by the HSE. Essentially biochemists who do the same work as medical scientists are paid 8% more for the same work.

Reasons for strike action

MLSA chairperson Kevin O’Boyle said medical scientists did not want to be taking this action today.

There is huge frustration and burn-out because of a severe recruitment and retention problem which have been ignored by the HSE and department of Health for many years.

“Up to 20% of approved medical scientist posts are unfilled in public hospitals and this problem is worsening.

Medical scientists carry out identical work to other colleagues in hospital laboratories, yet are paid on average 8% less. Medical Laboratory aides who report to medical scientists start on a higher salary.

“Medical scientists have fewer career development opportunities and fewer training and education supports than comparable colleagues. Against that, the role for laboratory diagnostics is expanding with increasing responsibility and workloads.

“It is not sustainable to continue like this. We need an effective work structure for this profession which can secure and retain the staffing levels required. Resolving these issues will benefit patients and the efficiency of health services they receive.”

MLSA general secretary Terry Casey said the union is seeking meaningful talks with the HSE and Department of Health.

“The MLSA’s claim for parity with clinical biochemist colleagues dates to 2001 when an Expert Group Report recommended pay parity between the grades. The then awarded pay parity was lost within months as a result of procedural error in the public service benchmarking awards in June 2002.

“In January 2020, against a backdrop of a severe and worsening recruitment and retention crisis, the MLSA renewed this longstanding claim for parity of pay and career progression. More than two years on, and after many rounds of proposals and talks, these issues have not been resolved and there is now an even more significant shortage of Medical Scientists, affecting all regions of the country.”

Medical Laboratory Scientists Association (MLSA)

The MLSA is the trade union representing medical scientists, the scientific professionals who carry out critical diagnostic testing of patient samples.

It represents more than 2,100 medical scientists employed in public voluntary hospitals, HSE hospitals, private hospitals and the Irish Blood Transfusion Service.