An all-out strike by the country’s 27,500 nurses is due to begin tomorrow morning, after the breakdown of talks tonight on a formula for new negotiations. Pickets are due to be mounted on hospitals around the country at 8am, with nursing cover reduced to emergency levels. The Taoiseach is to meet the Ministers for Health and Finance tomorrow to consider the outcome of today's meeting. Leaders of the four nurses unions are due to have crisis consultations with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions tomorrow afternoon.

This evening, the country's biggest health authority, the Eastern Health Board, urged nurses to call off their nation-wide strike tomorrow if a mechanism can be found to settle their pay dispute. The board also called on the Minister for Health to engage in what it called “immediate and constructive negotiations” to avert the industrial action. Following the break down of discussions between the four nursing unions and the Minister for Health after three hours, Liam Doran of the Irish Nurses' Alliance said the die was now cast.

Today's discussions, which began shortly after three o'clock, were aimed at agreeing a forum for new talks on the nurses' pay issue. Both sides say they will consult their social partners following the breakdown of the talks, and they have promised to keep lines of communication open. Already many hospital out patient clinics have been cancelled and other services suspended ahead of tomorrow's first ever national strike by nurses.

Earlier today, the chairman of the Nursing Alliance, Liam Doran, said he hoped a framework for new pay talks could be found, but he said the strike would still go ahead. Mr Cowen said that the process must be within what he called “the parameters of pay partnership”, but the unions said that the talks must lead to substantial progress on pay. Speaking on Morning Ireland, the General Secretary of the Psychiatric Nurses' Association, Des Kavanagh, said that the Nursing Alliance was looking forward to today's talks with the Minister. He said that the strike would not be called off unless there was real money on the table. The Nursing Alliance met this morning to draw up its agenda for the meeting, and put in place final arrangements for tomorrow's strike with pickets planned in almost one thousand locations.

Meanwhile, the Minister for Health, Brian Cowen, is to face a motion of censure in the Dáil this week over his handling of the nurses’ dispute. The Labour Party motion, which will be debated in Private Members time tomorrow and Wednesday night, censures the Minister for his failure to take appropriate action to avert the strike.