Emergency medicine consultants have warned that there will be delays in treating some emergency patients during the junior doctor strike, which started earlier this morning.
The IMO has confirmed that the one-day strike will have some impact on hospital emergency services.
The Irish Association of Emergency Medicine (IAEM) says as a result of the IMO's industrial action, Sunday level junior doctor staffing cover will be provided in EDs.
The ED consultants say while Sunday is a relatively quiet day, weekdays - particularly Monday, Tuesdays and Fridays - are considerably busier and therefore Sunday staffing is unlikely to be adequate to manage patient demand, inevitably resulting in delays for patients.
"It is important for the public to realise that while emergencies will continue to be managed during any industrial action, there will be disruption to services and delays for patients," the IAEM said.
The consultants say these delays are most likely to affect those 'with non-life or limb-threatening conditions.'
An IMO spokesman told irishhealth.com that junior doctor staffing available in EDs will be equivalent to Sunday levels today, and regrettably, this would have an impact on services.
Meanwhile, further strikes may follow today's 'day of action' in which over 3,000 junior doctors are withdrawing services from hospitals, the IMO has warned.
IMO Assistant Industrial Relations Director Eric Young said further days of action may follow if the HSE does not engage seriously with the process to end excessive junior doctor working hours.
The union, in its latest statement, said during the strike, junior doctors will provide cover equivalent to that available in hospitals on Sundays, with one additional on-call registrar on duty for intensive care units.
Junior doctors have also agreed to provide support for any required transplant and dialysis services for patients, to provide normal weekend palliative care and to attend to patients who are having active chemotherapy and radiotherapy that cannot be deferred.
The IMO said in addition, 'any unforeseen major incident' will be fully supported by junior doctors should it arise.
In the lead up to the strike, it was generally assumed that emergency services would be largely protected in any industrial action taken. However, the IAEM statement has cast some doubt on this.
The Medical Council's ethics guide states that if doctors withdraw their services, either as individuals or as part of a team, this does not release them from their ethical responsibilities to patients.
"This means that you must provide emergency services and any care that may be required by those for whom you hold clinical responsibility," the Council tells doctors.
In recent days, the union has rejected invitations to return to talks to try to avert the strike, claiming there is no basis for agreement at present. However, the HSE and Health Minister James Reilly claim progress has been made.
The Minister has appealed to the IMO to go back to talks and not to take action that will affect patients.
The one-day strike is expected to lead to the cancellation of 12,000 outpatient appointments and 3,000 operations.
The main consultant representative body, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA), has said its members support their NCHD (junior doctor) colleagues on the urgent need to reduce their working hours, 'which is in the interest of patient care and doctor welfare.'
"The Association reaffirms its position that patient safety is the absolute priority. Ireland’s acute hospitals are overstretched and under resourced, which is compromising patient care and safety."
The IHCA added: "Hospital consultants are clinically responsible for patients whom they will provide care for within the resources made available to them. During the course of any individual dispute, consultants will plan their patient services taking account of the medical manpower and other resources available. Services will be planned to ensure that those in most need will be attended to as a priority."
The IAEM added that it too supports limits on excessive junior doctor hours.
Asked if the IMO would expect the nearly 2,000 junior doctors who are not members of the union to support the strike, a spokesman said this would be up to each individual doctor, and they could pass the pickets should they wish to.
Time to end junior doctor stand-off