'We're not bolting IMA, we’re trying to help reach a deal'

Medical residents from a dozen hospitals stage walkout, say Treasury tried to “divide and rule” doctors by separating young from veterans.

By
July 22, 2011 00:51
Doctors protest in Haifa [File]

doctor strike haifa_311. (photo credit: Piotr Fliter/Ramban Medical Center)

 
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What appeared to begin this week as a “rebellion” by “ignored” medical residents and interns, turned on Thursday into a “reconciliation” between them and veteran physicians in the Israel Medical Association as they met at IMA headquarters in Ramat Gan.

Instead of calls to abandon the 20,000-member doctors’ association and set up a separate organization for the youngest, hardest-working and poorest-paid sector, the residents and interns said the real struggle was against the government and the Treasury, to get them to spend NIS 5 billion over the next eight years to improve pay, increase manpower in the wards and boost working conditions, and provide incentives for physicians in the periphery and in specialties with too-few doctors.

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Dr. Yona Weissbuch, a medical resident who graduated from Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Medical Faculty, and is studying at the Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus to specialize in ear-nose-and- throat, told The Jerusalem Post the Treasury tried to “divide and rule” doctors by separating the young from the veteran and besmirching better-paid senior physicians.

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Weissbuch is chairman of the four-year-old MIRSHAM voluntary organization of some 800 residents and interns, but has a list of around 5,000 doctors and medical students who receive ongoing information. He told the Post they don’t intend to bolt the IMA and set up their own organization to represent them as a union in labor court deliberations or to negotiate a separate agreement.

After midnight on Wednesday, the National Labor Court issued restraining orders against residents who walked off the job earlier in the day – when senior doctors treat patients – even though they all returned at 4 p.m. to work night shifts.

“We didn’t really hurt the patients, as the veteran doctors were on the hospital wards. We are all fighting for the health system,” said Weissbuch. “We saw the IMA wasn’t doing enough for younger doctors. We were updated on the proposed agreement to end the labor dispute that began in April, and we weren’t happy. The government must allocate more money, not the NIS 3b. over eight years that has been agreed upon, but NIS 5b. And we want Prime Minister [and formal Health Minister] Binyamin Netanyahu to intervene. We have not heard from Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz on the dispute.”

Residents and interns from about a dozen hospitals – but not those in Jerusalem – walked out and demonstrated in Ramat Gan on Thursday. Some who stood and blocked a street to protest in the hot sun against the impending agreement felt faint and had to be treated in a nearby hospital.

“We are not rebels,” Weissbuch said. “We are angry that the Finance Ministry has not been willing to increase the amount of money for the agreement. We are not against the IMA,” he said.



“But if the labor court says on Sunday that the IMA’s sanctions are disproportionate, we will try to strike instead, even though the IMA is our representative body. It’s better not to have an agreement than to sign a new agreement that is far from adequate.”

Weissbuch charged that Deputy Health Minister MK Ya’acov Litzman, by his injection of “unsuccessful ideas” about shortening residents’ shifts, which would harm their clinical studies, instead of reducing the number of them each month, “caused a setback of two months. An accord could have been better reached without his intervention,” he declared. “But we want the prime minister to intervene.”

On Friday morning, a large demonstration of medical students will be held at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center to “strengthen the hands of the residents and make it possible for them to bring their struggle to an end. The labor court decided to issue restraining orders to prevent the residents from using their basic right to protest,” the students’ groups said.

“The protest of young doctors is legitimate and real and comes from their love for the profession, their feeling of responsibility and great frustration,” the students said. “The crisis in medicine is severe, and instead of finding solutions, the state has proved its obtuseness by issuing restraining orders. Anyone who opposes this move should come to the protest.”

At Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center, both residents and senior doctors walked out and marched to the Bat Galim intersection to protest against the “inadequacy” of the proposed accord. Drivers who saw them turned on their lights in support. Among those in the march were Rambam director- general Prof. Rafael Beyar, who said the problems in the health system have only grown over the years and that violence against medical staffers, such as an incident this week, expressed the public’s rage.

Dr. Ze’ev Feldman, chief of pediatric neurosurgery at Sheba Medical Center and a member of the IMA secretariat, told the Post it erred by not explaining what it was after and what it had achieved in recent weeks – largely because National Labor Court President Nili Arad instructed the sides not to give any detailed information to the media.

“We could not be completely transparent,” Feldman admitted.

But he denied that medical residents had been ignored or frozen out by senior doctors in the IMA.

“A year ago, while preparing for negotiations for a new contract, 20,000 IMA members received a letter from IMA chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman asking for a “wish list,” Feldman said.

He received hundreds of responses, and even more from medical specialists. The IMA formulated 116 demands to be included among 11 main topics as part of its list for negotiations.

Feldman said the bulk of demands involved younger doctors, not senior ones. Feldman said the labor court’s restraining orders were not aimed against residents but against every physician who violated rules accepted by the IMA to reduce sanctions so they were bearable. When residents walked out (temporarily), they exceeded what the court had permitted, the IMA official said.

The labor court is due to rule on Sunday evening whether the IMA itself exceeded limits and should receive restraining orders.

Feldman said he was nevertheless optimistic, and that if the government became more flexible with funding, the gaps could be bridged.

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