IMA chief’s hunger strike goes into seventh day

2,500 doctors demonstrate, call on PM to resolve labor dispute; Livni: Health system needs major surgery, country needs new list of priorities.

By
August 1, 2011 01:25
4 minute read.

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

 
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Israel Medical Association Chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman, who is in his seventh day of a one-man hunger strike to induce Prime Minister (and formally Health Minister) Binyamin Netanyahu to intervene in the 134-day labor dispute, told The Jerusalem Post Sunday that he was not optimistic that it would be solved in the near future.

“I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said before speaking at a demonstration by 2,500 physicians and medical students at the Jerusalem’s Rose Garden opposite the Knesset.

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“I feel a bit weak physically, but mentally, I am stronger than ever,” Eidelman said to strong applause by the demonstrators, who came by tour buses from across the country, and included senior professors of medicine, residents, interns and medical students.

Some of the veteran hospital doctors were seen speaking on their cellphones to underlings in wards and giving instructions on how to take care of urgent cases of patients.

In the burning sun, with hardly any shade to protect them, the demonstrators loudly booed two people they blame for preventing an agreement: Netanyahu and Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman.

The three politicians who came and spoke, despite no activity in parliament on Sunday, were opposition chairman and Kadima MK Tzipi Livni, former Welfare and Social Affairs minister and now Labor MK Isaac Herzog and Kadima MK and physician, Rachel Adatto.

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Eidelman is drinking only mineral water, but agreed to take some salts as well after he was unable Friday to get out of a folding bed in his tent at the Rose Garden where he has been living and fasting since that morning. He refused to be taken to hospital and has declined to drink sweetened drinks or protein shakes.

Although the labor dispute, in which the IMA demands major structural reforms as well as wage hikes, has been marked by some disunity among the ranks in recent weeks, senior doctors from the center of the country, physicians from the periphery and residents seemed to unanimously support Eidelman and the IMA’s struggle.

Many handmade placards were marked with anti-Netanyahu and propublic- health-system slogans such as “Bibi, wake up. The patients are worth more!”

One medical student filled infusion bags with blood-like iodine and hung them from a stick to demonstrate how the health system needs to be revived.

Livni noted that years ago, every mother dreamed of a son or daughter studying medicine, but today, she realizes that a young doctor needs to be supported during years of earning little.

The public health system needs major surgery, said the Kadima leader, and the country needs to set a new list of priorities.

Herzog said that as a minister in 2001, he helped push the government to bring an end to the previous doctors strike, but Netanyahu shows no interest in the current one.

“You, as prime minister and health minister, can bring a speedy end to it,” Herzog declared, calling the doctors “angels in white.”

Adatto said that in a proper country, the deputy health minister who should be in charge of supervising the health system “would say at this point: ‘I have failed,’” adding, “but this is not a proper country.”

Asked why an agreement had not been signed a week or two ago when, according to some reports, it was impending, doctors in the crowd and senior IMA officials maintained that the reports were exaggerated and that while progress had been made, half a billion shekels in government spending to reform the system divided the two sides.

The Treasury has carried out a “disinformation campaign” and tried merely to “divide and rule,” the doctors claimed.

Meanwhile, in unprecedented action, Israel Academy of Science president Prof. Ruth Arnon sent a letter Sunday giving encouragement and support to Dr. Yona Weissbuch, chairman of Mirsham, the association of medical residents.

“I am following with much interest and concern the struggles of the residents. As an immunologist by training, I know that your struggle is just,” said Arnon, who has conducted research and taught for decades at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot.

Arnon, an Israel Prize winner and one of the country’s leading scientists, said that the doctors deserve better pay and conditions and that the system needs reform that will raise the level of the health system.

Young doctors need more money and time to conduct medical research so they can give better care to their patients, she said.

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