Thousands of hospital consultants and doctors who are members of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) have voted in favour of industrial action in the New Year.
In a ballot held today, 94% voted to strike over issues relating to pay inequality.
It was the first time that the hospital consultants and doctors voted together for industrial action.
The IMO said in a statement that they "can no longer tolerate the decimation of health services in Ireland, and the life-threatening effect this is having on patients throughout the country".
Their key demand is to end "the unjustifiable pay inequality faced by consultants which is based solely on when they were appointed", which is turn is impacting on recruitment of doctors to the health service.
The IMO says it expects that the strike will take place early in the New Year.
Dr Clive Kilgallen, Chairman of the IMO Consultants’ Committee, said there was an urgent need for more doctors in order to provide better care.
He said: "We already have the lowest number of specialists per capita in the EU and consultant staffing levels fall far below recommended ratios.
"It is outrageous that the Government has presided over this shortfall and is denying patients the care they need.”
'Enough is enough'
Dr Matthew Sadlier, former President of the IMO and a member of its Consultants’ Committee, said: “We are deeply disappointed that the Government has forced doctors to take this action, but we have exhausted every other remaining option and all the while the state of our health service has steadily disintegrated under a Government that does not value the welfare of patients.
“This pay issue is the single biggest obstacle to the functioning of our health services and providing care to our patients, and any talk of reform is just spin until this has been resolved.
“The message from doctors is clear: enough is enough. We do not want to strike but we cannot stand by any longer and watch as our health service is hollowed out and doctors are left to pick up the pieces yet again.
He added: “This is an unprecedented step but also an unprecedented situation.
"Government policies have directly led to a situation whereby we have unacceptable trolley numbers and waiting lists, 540 empty consultant posts and doctors leaving the medical register in their thousands because they cannot cope with the stress of working in such an under-resourced environment.”
Dr Anthony O’Connor, a member of the IMO Consultants’ Committee, said patient welfare was their main priority, which is why the industrial action will not take place over the Christmas and New Year period.
He said: “However, in the meantime we urge the Government to come to the table and engage with us so this action does not have to proceed and patients can be confident that the crisis in our health service is being addressed.
“If the Government is serious about wide-ranging reform in the health service then it must address this crisis first, otherwise reform is doomed to failure.”