IRELAND'S nurses walked out of their jobs for the first time yesterday morning and vowed: "No surrender."
As the health care system was pushed into chaos, the 30,000 nurses said they would stay on strike for "as long as it takes".
Full-scale pickets were placed on 1,000 hospitals and health care centres around the country in the biggest strike in the history of the state.
Furious members of the nursing unions walked out in force at 8am yesterday.
And the impact was felt immediately.
Thousands of operations and appointments were cancelled in the first hour of the dispute.
Family doctors reported a huge increase in waiting-room queues as potential patients stayed away from the hospitals.
The Irish Cancer Society said they feared that people would die if the dispute dragged on.
The organisation said that up to 50 new cancer patients a day will not get any treatment.
And the absence of nurses has caused chemotherapy and radiotherapy facilities to be shut down.
Blood transfusions are also affected, with nurses picketing the Blood Transfusion Service Board headquarters in Dublin.
Another specialist clinic which collects blood platelets for cancer patients also shut its doors and will not reopen until after the dispute.
However, a delighted new mum praised University College Hospital in Galway yesterday after her baby boy was born just hours after the strike began.
Liz Gray from Galway's Kinvara was worried that there would not be enough staff to help deliver her second child.
But everything went well and her healthy son, Levi, was born less than two hours after the nurses took to the picket line.
"We were very worried because we didn't know if there'd be any nurses here but, as it turned out, there was no problem," said Liz.
Around 300 nurses walked out of the hospital yesterday while 70 stayed to provide emergency cover.
Nursing Alliance boss Helen Murphy described it as the "saddest day in nursing history".
As the first day of their stoppage wore on, more and more problems began to emerge in the massively over-stretched health care system.
The Irish Hospital Consultants Association ordered members not to work "to the point of exhaustion" where their clinical judgment could be "compromised".
Junior doctors were left to pick up the pieces in hospitals.
But they warned that they would not be able to cover the workload if the strike continued for more than three days.
With the emergency '999' call service overloaded, there were reports of the public abusing the system to try to make sure they got into a casualty department.
Dr Peter O'Connor, accident and emergency consultant at Dublin's Mater hospital, pleaded with members of the public to go to their family doctors for minor ailments.
There was chaos in deserted wards across the country as doctors attempted to treat patients, and switchboards were jammed with queries from anxious relatives.
Ward phones were left to ring out as treatment was given - and the public were told to confine their contact with the hospitals. …