Latest: Nurses' strike: Some 27,000 patients have had medical appointments cancelled as a result of today's industrial action by nurses.
The HSE says some cancer surgeries have not been carried out, and reduced cover in emergency departments could mean long delays in admitting patients.
Its contingency planning teams are meeting the INMO every two hours today, as 37,000 nurses and midwives strike for a third day over pay and safe staffing levels.
However, Health Minister Simon Harris says those who can ensure a safe level of service are outside hospitals on the picket line.
"What struck me were the chants that I heard (from the picket lines) proclaiming the need for safe staffing, while the key staff essential for running the services in the building behind them are outside on the picket line," he said "There has to be a better way to do our business."
The HSE’s chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry has admitted that some cancer surgeries did not go ahead today because of the nurses strike.
He told RTE’s News at One that while discussions with the INMO were still ongoing in relation to exemptions for cancer surgery, a number of surgeries had been cancelled at different locations around the country.
Dr Henry also warned that the HSE’s ability to prioritise patients for whom procedures were cancelled is being compromised.
Last week the HSE had said that such patients would be prioritised and would be in “first place” for new appointments for rescheduled procedures. “If this goes on next week we can’t give that assurance.”
He explained that it was possible for the system to “absorb” one day of cancellations as had happened last year during Storm Emma and last week’s one day strike, but there was now a “cumulative effect” which would make it increasingly difficult to reschedule cancelled appointments and procedures.
Dr Henry said he was particularly concerned at the impact such cancellations would have on the outcome for patients.
“We are seeking exemptions for the most critical services.”
The need to see critical patients is becoming more and more urgent, he added, but their appointments are being “pushed out further.”