Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu – who is formally the health minister but has
for many months left the medical system crisis to others – swung into action on
Monday night as hundreds of medical residents made good on their promise to
resign their posts.
In an effort to soften their resolve to quit
permanently and find other work in Israel or abroad, Netanyahu told Finance
Ministry negotiators to raise by thousands of shekels the monthly salaries of
residents who agreed to devote all their work time to the public
residents: Resignations may be unstoppable
residents agree to postpone resignation by 48 hours
Netanyahu also asked the medical residents to hold back on
resignations for another two weeks to find suitable solutions to the
crisis. A statement put out by his office said he expected the medical
residents to “demonstrate responsibility.”
Hospital wards in the center
of the country were largely empty, as patients who did not need urgent care were
discharged and sent home, while the Health Ministry evacuated those who couldn’t
get adequate treatment due to the shortage of manpower to medical centers in the
At the same time, the public tried to get medical assistance
in outpatient community facilities, and senior specialists were forced to take
blood samples and do other elementary tasks that they hadn’t performed for
years, if not decades.
But both the ministries and the hospital directors
– waiting for a ruling late Monday by National Labor Court President Nili Arad –
knew that such filling- in measures could not be managed for more than a few
days or a week.
The session began at 5 p.m., when Arad ordered those
physicians who had submitted resignation letters to respond to the state’s
request for tie-down orders. Arad also called on hospital directors-general to
establish their case for damages caused by residents’ resignations.
in the history of the state’s health system had young doctors – adamant about
getting improved pay and conditions – not shown up at their lifesaving hospital
jobs en masse, threatened with permanent dismissal.
More than half of the
residents who submitted their resignation letters over a month ago decided on
Monday that enough was enough. And, like birds of prey taking advantage of a
tragedy, representatives of some foreign medical centers reportedly sent
emissaries to Israel to offer medical jobs abroad to the doctors who had
The struggle was a conflict in which neither side wanted to
blink first. Netanyahu realized the seriousness of the situation when the first
residents announced they would not show up. He called Finance Minister Yuval
Steinitz and Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman for an emergency
The state’s lawyers initiated a National Labor Court session
aimed at winning “tiedown orders” that would prevent resignations that would
endanger public health.
Although doctors have the right to resign
individually, a simultaneous abandonment of the wards clearly puts health and
life at risk.
Hospitals in the periphery, which ordinarily suffer from
inadequate amounts of funding and manpower, suddenly became “kings” as patients
were helicoptered and driven in to have their services. Residents in the
periphery – which has been neglected medically compared to the better-off center
– will harvest considerable financial gain from the nine-year agreement signed at
the end of August between the employers and the Israel Medical Association. As a
result, none of them signed letters of resignation.
Steinitz called an
unusual press conference at the Treasury in the morning, saying the framework of
the labor agreement could not be broken, but that he and wage officials were
looking for “creative ways to improve certain things within the already-written
agreement with doctors, including additional money.”
He said he was
disappointed that despite ongoing negotiations in recent days, the young doctors
decided to walk out and burn their bridges.
“Hold discussions with us,”
A clearly angry Steinitz attacked the residents’ decision,
saying that physicians were among the highest 10 percent of wage-earners in the
country and accusing them of “of un-Jewish and unethical” behavior.
doctors with more than 20 years of experience earn more than the prime minister – and that’s not including private work,”
Earlier, Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen (Shas) said
the mass resignations were proof that the residents had “lost all
“The residents spurned every offer made to them by the
state. They chose to use threats and extortion, and they took the sick
hostage in order to obtain more money. During all the meetings with their
representatives, they made no connection between their demands and the
strengthening of the public medical system,” Cohen charged.
thing that interests them is money, money, and more money, and therefore
responsibility for the damage done to the hospitals lies with those who chose to
desert in order to extract more money. Woe are we if they are the face of
the new generation in our country,” he said furiously.
resignation at a press conference in the morning, residents’ representative Dr.
Gabi Haran called on the labor court not to order them back to work. “We
respect the court far more than Finance Ministry wages supervisor Ilan Levin
does. Today we will ask the court not to issue an injunction or
tiedown. It is not the doctors who led us to this depressing situation,”
he added. “It is the state that needs to take responsibility for its
Another resident, Dr. Oren Feldman, called on Netanyahu to
intervene, as only his involvement could resolve the issues.
residents did not show up for their morning shifts. The biggest gaps were 105 at
Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, 71 at Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, 77 at
Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center, 42 at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, 20 at
Holon’s Wolfson Medical Center and seven at Assaf Harofeh Medical Center in
Tzrifin, according to the Health Ministry’s “situation room” in
Health Ministry director-general Prof. Ronni Gamzu visited
seven of the affected hospitals.
He said that hospital emergency rooms,
as the hub of urgent care, were functioning properly.
The ministry is the
only one to decide how Magen David Adom ambulances will distribute those who
need urgent care among the hospitals, he said.
But the ministry worried
that activity in gynecology, pediatrics, orthopedics and surgical departments
will be the first to suffer.
Sourasky Medical Center director- general
Prof. Gabi Barbash, who years ago was director-general of the Health Ministry,
said that he strongly sympathized with the residents but opposed their act of
resigning and leaving the premises. He guessed that his hospital could manage
for a day and up to a week, but could not predict beyond that.
fear that the health system could get used to the situation today,” he said,
referring to the shortage of medical manpower and resultant lower level of
Barbash added that the public medical system was endangered by
the competing private hospitals funded by supplementary health insurance. The
hospital director-general is known to be a longtime advocate of private medical
) in the public hospitals to supply them with more
Meanwhile, Kadima MK Rachel Adatto, a gynecologist and medical
administrator by training, said the government had delivered the health system
to a state of “anarchy and decline” and the worst situation in its
Adatto, chairman of the health lobby in the Knesset, claimed
that the government failed hopelessly in managing the health crisis and ignored
the situation for six months.
“The handwriting was on the wall,” she
“Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is health minister, is personally
responsible for the current situation.”