Litzman ‘jest’ vexes doctors: Strike to mean fewer deaths

IMA sanctions due to disrupt services for two days; Meeting between doctor's union, Treasury ends without any breakthrough.

April 5, 2011 01:13
4 minute read.
KADIMA MK Arye Bibi: ‘When I see these graphs and

doctor 311. (photo credit: Avi Hayoun)


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Public-sector doctors are set to begin a two-day “warning strike” on Tuesday morning after talks between the Israel Medical Association and the Treasury concluded on Monday night without any breakthrough.

The sides agreed on another meeting at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

IMA declares work dispute for public-sector physicians

The Health Ministry urged the IMA and the Finance Ministry to negotiate until they reached agreement on wages, conditions and improvements in the health system.

The last time the IMA went on strike was 11 years ago, and it continued for months, although it was not a walkout that abandoned patients.

Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman said that starting Wednesday, talks would be conducted daily by ministry director-general Dr.

Ronni Gamzu and Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen, alternating between their offices. They would, he said, aim to find a balance among concern about patients, improving the status of doctors and honoring current wage agreements in other sectors.

If the strike is not canceled before Tuesday morning, public hospitals will be most affected, as doctors will work on a limited Shabbat schedule, while Clalit and Leumit clinics will seriously reduce services – including scheduled visits to doctors. Maccabi Health Services and Kupat Holim Meuhedet will operate normally.

During the warning strike, dialysis treatment for kidney patients (three per week) will continue, the ministry ordered on Monday, as will in-vitro fertilization treatments in community clinics.

Hormone treatments will be given in hospitals to women who have been prepared for them in advance. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy will be available to those who need them according to strict protocols.

In operating rooms, lifesaving surgery will be performed during the strike, and activity in intensive care units, emergency departments and delivery rooms will continue as normal. Appeals committees will be set up in all the hospitals to rule on other procedures.

The ministry said that hospital directors would shift manpower according to crowding in the various departments.

Health funds will run urgent medical care centers during the week according to a reduced Shabbat schedule if these centers are closed. The insurers must update their members so they are informed about what is still available.

The Health Ministry, meanwhile, was hard put to explain Litzman’s remark to Army Radio’s Yael Dan that it was “just a curiosity that during the last doctors’ strike [over] 10 years ago, fewer patients died.”

Doctors were infuriated by the statement, which seemed intentional rather than an unfortunate slip of the tongue.

Dan expressed her shock over the remark, but Litzman did not apologize or rescind his comment at the end of the interview. Litzman later issued a statement claiming it had been in jest.

It is well known that when elective surgery is performed, some lives are lost in surgery, but that if the patients were operated on later, they would die anyway.

Kadima MK Rachel Adatto, herself a gynecologist by training, attacked Litzman for his statement about fewer deaths during doctors’ strikes.

“Litzman is spitting at the doctors,” she said.

“It was an unworthy, unfortunate statement and should not have been uttered,” Adatto added. “The fact is that physicians work long shifts, sometimes over 24 hours at a time, while hospitalization conditions are unfit for patients and doctors.”

She charged that “instead of helping doctors by demanding manpower increases and improving conditions, the deputy minister makes jokes as if strikes make it better for patients.”

Litzman’s spokesman retorted that he “forgoes MK Adatto’s advice on helping doctors.

While Adatto and her party did nothing when they were in government for doctors and the health system, the Health Ministry [under Litzman] for the first time in a decade achieved agreement for the expansion of hospital beds by hundreds, an expansion of the health budget, more nurses and more important steps.”

The spokesman added that the warning strike was “all about salaries. The deputy minister supports improving wage conditions, especially in the periphery, and even suggested a solution of allowing private medical services in public hospitals in return for agreement to using a time clock [that the Treasury demands]. But he is against a strike that could risk lives, especially when the negotiations have not reached completion.”

The Treasury said in a statement that the strike could still be prevented by the IMA’s willingness to negotiate and that an agreement could be reached by arbitration.

“It would be preferable that the doctors focus on advancing negotiations or on responding to the state’s offer to begin an agreed-upon arbitration process, in order not to harm the public,” the ministry said.

The Labor Party stated that it supported the doctors, who “do holy work under very difficult conditions around the clock and throughout the year.”

It called on Prime Minister and Health Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to call together the two sides for round-the-clock negotiations to prevent harm to patients. It is clear that he should intervene, the party said, and best if he does so to head off the strike.

Meidad Gissin, head of the health committee in the Pensioners Party and head of the Hatzvi patient consumers’ organization, also called on Netanyahu to intervene.

“The doctors are right,” he said. “The health system is collapsing.”

At Monday’s cornerstone-laying ceremony for buildings for the Safed medical school’s campus, Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said, “The doctors put public medicine on the agenda and the gaps between the center and the periphery. A new medical school will help reduce the serious shortage of doctors and improve medical services in the region.”

Nadav Shemer contributed to this report.

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