Health staff strike is deferred too late to avoid many patients missing out on their treatment

Many waiting list patients will lose out on much-needed surgery or diagnostic procedures today as the last-minute deferral yesterday of the planned strike by 10,000 hospital support workers came too late.

The worst hit are patients who had planned to travel long distances and were due to be admitted overnight for surgery today but were told earlier yesterday their procedures were cancelled for safety reasons.

Among those affected are patients who were due orthopaedic surgery in Merlin Park Hospital, Galway, and were travelling from as far away as Wexford.

Siptu and the HSE will return to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) this morning in a bid to broker a deal in the €20m pay dispute after the union received reassurances yesterday that there was a basis to resume talks.

Hospitals were facing chaos as a hidden army of support workers, including porters, healthcare assistants, domestic cleaners and chefs, were due to take to the picket line at 8am for the 24-hour work stoppage.

Earlier yesterday the HSE said planned surgery, some outpatient clinics, catering services for patients, as well as diagnostic scope procedures, would be affected as strike action forced hospitals to wind down services to minimise risk.

The workers are seeking pay rises of between €1,500 and €3,000 which they say they are due following a job evaluation scheme.

However, the Department of Public Expenditure wants the payment to be put on hold until 2021. This led to the collapse of talks at the WRC earlier this week.

Siptu official Paul Bell said yesterday evening: “The Government must honour its obligations to health workers and not squander this opportunity.”

He warned the threatened next round of work stoppages, due to begin next Tuesday, had not been called off.

The dispute leaves Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe facing another payout.

He said: “The Public Service Pay Agreement is in place, that is budgeted for. We need to protect the agreement, there is a wide variety of competing claims.

“There is an agreement in place that I am determined to protect.”

The HSE’s failure to prevent the dispute going to the 11th hour, only months after the nurses’ strike, left many doctors frustrated yesterday.

Fergus Byrne, an orthopaedic surgeon in Galway, said: “This could have been avoided if they had engaged with the unions and honoured the agreement.”

The HSE said: “Hospitals will endeavour to reinstate services and appointments in so far as possible and will contact patients directly to advise of any appointments and procedures that can proceed.”

The University of Limerick Hospitals Group said that “with a small number of exceptions, all outpatient appointments and elective procedures will now go ahead as planned”.

Most patients whose appointments or procedures were cancelled were contacted and rescheduled.

But a small number of patients due for oscilloscopes today will not go ahead because the deferral did not allow time to make necessary preparations.

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