Treasury, doctors reach breakthrough in talks

IMA chairman Eidelman halts 10-day hunger strike; sides to hold negotiations following agreement on some issues.

August 3, 2011 21:20
2 minute read.
IMA chief Leonid Eidelman in hunger strike

Leonid Eidelman 311. (photo credit: JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH)

After 137 days of a bitter labor dispute between the Treasury and the Israel Medical Association and a 10-day hunger strike by IMA chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman, a breakthrough was reached in negotiations on Wednesday night that enabled the hungry physician to eat again.

For the first time, the two sides issued a terse joint statement with the outline of a negotiated agreement. The statement disclosed that 1,000 extra job slots for physicians would be allocated to the public hospitals.

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In addition, the number of night and weekend shifts of 26 hours in a row would be reduced to six per month. This process would “begin immediately and be spread over the next two years,” it said.

The joint statement also reported that funds would be allocated “immediately” to make grants of “up to NIS 300,000” per physician who agrees to work in the periphery of the country and in medical professions in which manpower is scarce.

There was no mention of whether doctors who are already living and working in hospitals and clinics in the periphery would be compensated as well.

The statement did not include an explanation of where the extra 1,000 hospital physicians would come from; there is a serious physician shortage in the country that threatens to get worse in the coming years.

There was also no mention of the Treasury’s demand that hospital doctors punch time clocks to prove they are on the job when they are supposed to be – a demand the IMA had rejected outright.

The statement said the 1,000 job slots would be anchored in a new collective agreement and come in addition to allocations to expand the number of hospital beds (including equipment and hospital staff to treat patients) by hundreds within a few years.

The Treasury and the IMA said they would now enter “speeded-up and intensive negotiations” to deal with the remaining issues. The doctors have been demanding the spending of NIS 2.5 billion to NIS 3b. over several years to meet their demands.

Dr. Yoram Blachar, the previous chairman of the IMA, told The Jerusalem Post that he was very happy and relieved the labor dispute seems about to end soon. He could not say how the 1,000 job slots would be filled, adding “the quality of Israeli doctors cannot be lowered.”

He was overjoyed that Eidelman, a 59-year-old anesthesiologist at the Rabin Medical Center, was halting his hunger strike.

“He will have to do it slowly, starting only with things to drink,” he said, as eating after such a long fast is dangerous.

Although he had been worried by his successor’s hunger strike, Blachar said, apparently, that drastic act was what put pressure on the government to make concessions.

Asked if he would have held a hunger strike if he were IMA chairman today, Blachar said: “Leonid is a very strong individual.”

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was also satisfied that Eidelman ended his hunger strike, and phoned him Wednesday night to congratulate him. Netanyahu, in a statement released by his office, said he was pleased with the progress made toward an agreement with the doctors, and that “we are now on the right track. We need to narrow the gap and end the strike.”

Herb Keinon contributed to this report.

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