Medical scientists who carry out COVID screening threaten industrial action

Medical scientists have stated that they will seek industrial action if the government does not agree to a substantial pay increase. Erin Killoran explains why they’re considering taking action.

Photo taken by António Pedro Ferreira. Sourced from Flickr

The Medical Laboratory Scientists Association’s (MLSA) Annual General Meeting (AGM) took place on Saturday the 17th of October via Zoom. During this meeting the union members discussed measures on how to address their grievance, not ruling out the possibility of industrial action. 

These scientists are demanding a pay rise due to the large pay gap between biochemists and medical scientists, while carrying out the same jobs. Elena Walsh, a medical scientist at St James’ Hospital explained her frustrations. “The pay parity with biochemists is an issue currently ongoing for years. 

“Both medical scientists and biochemists do the same work but have different degrees. In 2001, we had pay parity with biochemists. Shortly after the biochemist’s trade union IMPACT (now FORSA) linked them with speech and language therapists who were due a pay increase so when that was awarded, biochemists salaries went up as well.”

The link between medical scientists and biochemists’ salaries was broken,” she said. 

Walsh commented on the potential strike: “All medical scientists that are members of the MLSA (Trade Union) will strike but the laboratory services would still have to be available for emergency services. We would therefore have to provide the minimum service needed to care for patients in these emergency situations while on strike, as we can’t endanger patients’ lives.” 

When further questioned on whether or not COVID screening would take place, she stated: “Medical scientists in the public sector are the only people qualified to perform COVID testing, but it would be classed as an emergency service, so a medical scientist would be available to perform testing for inpatients and staff during the strike. Therefore, we would allow a handful of scientists a day to cross the picket line and provide this service.” 

In the MLSA AGM press release, general secretary for MLSA, Terry Casey, stated: “This long-running pay dispute requires immediate resolution to avoid widespread disruption to laboratory diagnostic services as we enter the Winter Flu season, and with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to cause grave concern.”

The MLSA have stated there is a national shortage of medical scientists, with 130 positions that need to be filled. This is believed to be due to the inferior pay and lack of career progression in this field.

On top of the demand for a pay rise, these medical scientists are also hoping to become more appreciated by the government in the event of a strike. Walsh told The City: “The aim is to make a large impact without endangering the patient’s lives. 

“We would not test GP samples, STI screens, any additional/ specialised tests etc. These samples would be frozen and tested after the strike. Seventy percent of all clinical decisions are made from laboratory test results. So, we are hoping to show how much the healthcare service would be affected if medical scientists went on strike.”

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