Up to 400 support staff are involved in strike action at Sligo University Hospital today including house-keeping, catering and security staff as well as theatre operatives and multi-task attendants.

They said it was regrettable that they were on the picket-line but morale was high and they were determined to see this dispute through.

Strike action by 10,000 health support staff is under way at 38 hospitals around the country. 

Karina Lynch, a member of house-keeping staff in Sligo hospital said that they did not want to be there but felt they were being treated differently to other hospital staff.

Support staff are essential to the running of the hospital and deserve to be treated with respect as well, she said, and it is in the hands of Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe to resolve the dispute.

Theatre operative Paul Moran said support staff run nearly everything in the hospital, "We are all cogs in a big wheel," he said, adding that people want to go back in to do their jobs.

He said they were sorry for the impact on patients and acknowledged that the three days of strike planned for next week will have a catastrophic impact and he called on all parties to come together to resolve this dispute.

SIPTU Assistant Industrial Organiser for Health, Sandra Flanagan, said support grades play a major role in the patient journey through Sligo University Hospital and emergency cover is being provided today but striking staff want pay justice.

Honorary President of SIPTU Padraig Peyton, who joined the members picketing in Sligo, said much fuss has been made about the issue of the Labour Court, but he said it must be remembered that SIPTU may have accepted an invitation to the court had it been about implementation of the agreement, but he said it was about interpretation of the agreement and they were not going to re-negotiate that.

Mr Peyton said morale is high and he cannot see it waning and SIPTU is open for negotiations, but they have to be meaningful negotiations. 

The scale of the disruption varies from hospital to hospital, with a number of issues impacting on the provision of services. 

Contract catering and contract cleaning staff are still at work but the vast majority of HSE-employed health care assistants, porters, chefs and laboratory staff are taking part in the work stoppage.

Pickets have been placed at the entrances to hospitals in Galway, Ballinasloe, Castlebar, Roscommon, Sligo and Letterkenny. 

The Saolta group said that those with outpatient appointments should present as scheduled, unless they have already been contacted to say their appointment has been cancelled today. 

Dialysis and Chemotherapy is being provided as normal across the hospitals in question. 

The Health Service Executive has warned of a serious impact nationally on planned inpatient procedures, tests involving scopes, outpatients, operating theatre activity and catering. 

The dispute centres on a job evaluation scheme, which the Government agreed to carry out during negotiations on the last Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA).

The job evaluations examine whether roles have changed and whether pay rises are warranted.

Affected grades include health care assistants, maternity care assistants, laboratory aides, chefs, and surgical instrument technicians, as well as workers in portering, household and catering services.

Apart from today's 24-hour stoppage, SIPTU has scheduled three further back-to-back strikes on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week.

Additional Reporting Pat McGrath