Coronavirus testing may be derailed due to strike action

Medical laboratory scientists announce intention to take action over unfilled posts

Covid-19 testing is facing significant disruption later this month after medical scientists announced their intention to strike over unfilled posts.

The Medical Laboratory Scientists Association (MLSA) has served notice of industrial action for Wednesday, March 30th, over what it says are long-standing pay and career development issues affecting recruitment and retention in the sector. The notice follows an unsuccessful period of talks under public sector agreements that failed to resolve the grievances.

Association chairman Kevin O’Boyle said medical scientists were highly frustrated and wanted their issues properly resolved “for once and for all”. The notice was sanctioned at a meeting of the executive committee last night.

“In its 60-year history the MLSA has only once taken full industrial action, and that was in 1969, so this is a big step. However, we are left with no alternative. While we regret the difficulties it may cause, there is huge frustration among our members that the severe recruitment and retention problems in the sector have been ignored.”


Up to 20 per cent of approved medical scientist posts are unfilled in hospitals countrywide, he said. The union is seeking pay parity with staff in biochemistry labs.

It says if no progress is made on its issues, a further two days of action are planned for April 5th and 7th.

Latest coronavirus wave

Meanwhile, more than 7,000 residents and staff of nursing homes and community hospitals have contracted coronavirus in the current wave of the pandemic. A total of 82 of these have died in this wave, since last Christmas, according to an update from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).

This is by far the lowest mortality figure for any wave of the pandemic; 884 care-home residents and staff died in the first wave in 2020 and 1,026 in the third wave in 2020-21.

There were 44 outbreaks in nursing homes and community hospitals last week, involving 384 linked cases – 129 outbreaks among staff and 246 among residents, with nine cases of unknown status.

The absence of staff as a result of infection is having an impact on acute hospitals and residential care settings, according to Health Service Executive chief clinical officer Colm Henry.

The recent rise in cases was also having a “very disruptive effect” on the flow of patients through hospitals, he acknowledged.

The number of patients in hospital with the virus increased again on Thursday to 877, up 48 on the previous day, and the highest figure since late January.

Dr Henry described the recent rise in hospitalisations as troubling, but said that half of all coronavirus cases in hospital are incidental, in that the patients were admitted for another condition and were then diagnosed with the virus.

The proportion of non-incidental cases in intensive care, which had been at 99 per cent, has fallen to 57 per cent, he added.

The number of intensive care unit patients with the virus dropped to 41 on Thursday, down six on the previous day. This is the lowest figure since last August.

Because the capacity of the virus to inflict harm is greatly diminished since the Omicron variant became dominant, Dr Henry told RTÉ Radio, the public health focus has switched from mass testing to controlling outbreaks, and from blanket advice to advice tailored to individual groups such as those with infections.

The HPSC said it was notified of 4,065 PCR-confirmed cases on Wednesday. A record 7,617 people registered a positive antigen test through the HSE portal.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.