Court to hear residents' resignation petition

Panel set to hear doctors' appeal to be able to quit legally; Barak says IMA-Health Ministry agreement should be re-considered.

Hospital beds 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Hospital beds 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A panel of three justices was scheduled to convene at the High Court Thursday morning, to discuss the medical residents' petition to be allowed to resign legally.
The panel, consisting of of Court President Dorit Beinisch, Justice Esther Hayut and Justice Hanan Meltzer, will hear the petition against the ruling of the National Labor Court in Jerusalem last month.
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Discussing the health system crisis in an interview Thursday morning with Army Radio, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that the specialist doctors should be compensated for their hard work.
Barak said that the Health Ministry should re-consider the agreement with the IMA.
"It's always possible to re-discuss agreements - human beings sign them, and they sometimes make mistakes," the Defense Minister explained.
"It's not necessary to pour money on the specialists, but the government needs to sit with the specialists and reach an agreement that is good for everyone," he added.
As hundreds of young and senior physicians continue to resign – on paper, if not yet in actual fact – the Treasury, meanwhile, filed an urgent plea to the Labor Court in Jerusalem for contempt-of-court orders. The Finance Ministry even included newspaper clippings of protests and positions to make its point to the court.
If the court accepts the state’s new request, any doctors who resign could be fined or could even be jailed, with the aim of forcing them to observe the court orders to go back to the hospitals. Some could even lose their license to practice medicine here or the ability to do so abroad.
“There is no reason that justifies abandoning patients and so there is no reason justifying the violation and contempt of the court’s ruling,” said the Tel Aviv District Attorney’s Office, which filed the request on behalf of the state. The state’s request to the National Labor Court comes a day before the High Court is due to convene a hearing on a petition filed by a group of medical residents against the National Labor Court’s October ruling.
The Health Ministry said Wednesday evening that a total of 315 medical residents did not show up at work.
Labor Court President Nili Arad asked the doctors for their comments by Thursday afternoon.
The doctors have tried to hand in their resignations on an “individual basis” to avoid the court’s ruling in October against collective resignations and to pressure the Treasury to give in to their demands. The court ordered the recalcitrant physicians to return to work immediately, but this week hundreds didn’t show up for work.
The residents – now backed by dozens of senior hospital residents in the center of the country and Haifa – want the labor agreement signed in August after a long strike to be shortened to four years instead of nine. They maintain that the accord with the IMA serves the interest of senior doctors in the periphery and discriminates against those in hospitals that will not receive major financial incentives for moving to the periphery to boost medical care there.
After Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman learned that senior physicians had sent in letters of resignation in solidarity with the rebelling residents, he warned them he would consider dismissing 10 of them instead of “waiting for them” to leave in a month’s time.
By then, the senior doctors hope the labor dispute could be over. This warning infuriated the specialists, who threatened to strike (which would put hospitals on a Shabbat schedule) indefinitely.
The ministry sent to Rambam management a list of the 10 hospital department and unit heads and told it to accept their resignations immediately.
But management of Rambam – a ministry-owned and -operated hospital – refused to fire them, stating the directors have been working at Rambam for many years and filling vital positions. It said firing the doctors would endanger patients.
Litzman’s orders induced doctors to walk out of the hospital for a few hours in protest, but as they received support from Rambam management, they returned to work afterward.
Rambam director-general Prof. Rafi Beyar, who is abroad but returning soon, is ironically a favorite of Litzman, who named him this year for the second time as chairman of the committee to recommend expansion of the Health Basket.
Litzman said on Israel Radio Wednesday morning the senior doctors should have waited patiently, only fore one day, to hear the High Court’s ruling.
Doctors at Sourasky also threatened to shut down the hospital if specialist doctors there were dismissed before their resignation letters came into effect.
MK Arye Eldad (National Union), a physician by training, said he was initiating a private member’s bill that would require labor disputes in the public sector to go to arbitration. This would be apt not only for doctors but also for garbage collectors, Electric Corporation workers and others in vital jobs.
The bill would require such workers to give three months’ notice before going out on strike; send them to mandatory arbitration instead of depending on optional mediation; and prohibit going out on strike unless arbitration had already begun. Eldad also proposed that organizing an unrecognized strike or participating in it would be in violation of the law.
Similar bills have been presented to previous Knessets, but none of them got anywhere.
Israel Radio reported Wednesday Clalit Health Services director-general Eli Depes is concerned about letters he received from medical residents in the health fund’s hospitals in the center of the country to move to its hospitals in the periphery.
This, Depes said, would weaken medical care in the center. The residents said they want to move to the outskirts to benefit from the NIS 500,000 bonus offered in the contract between the Finance Ministry and the IMA for each doctor who works in the periphery for a certain number of years.
Reacting to this news was Shmuel Rifman, chairman of the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council, who said that he fully supported the Treasury’s “strong stand” and agreement to compensate doctors moving to the periphery, which has suffered from lower-standard medicine for many years. He called on medical residents to indeed move to the North and South and raise the level of medicine there, and said he was sure that heads of other regional councils in the periphery agreed with him.