Health system’s labor pains end as doctors return

“The new agreement is good for everybody, and now we have to get back to work,” Health Ministry official tells 'Post'.

Doctors residents x-ray 311 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Doctors residents x-ray 311
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
After nine months of labor troubles, the health system returned to worrying about patients on Thursday instead of about physicians.
Representatives of hospital residents signed an agreement with the Treasury amending the collective agreement the Israel Medical Association (IMA) signed at the end of August, which had not satisfied hundreds of the young physicians studying a medical specialty.
“The new agreement is good for everybody, and now we have to get back to work,” Dr. Chezy Levy, head of the Health Ministry’s medical administration, told The Jerusalem Post.
Representing the government – one of the employers of the residents – Levy had been at the signing ceremony at around 3 a.m. and gone to sleep before dawn. He has spent much of his time since March dealing with the bitter dispute with the physicians.
“The patients suffered from the lack of stability over this time,” said Levy, referring to the on-and-off sanctions and partial strikes carried out by the IMA as a whole and then walkouts and resignations by hospital residents in the central region and Haifa. Residents in other parts of the country, including the periphery, had generally been satisfied with the IMA’s original agreement with the Finance Ministry because it gave incentives to doctors to move to the outlying regions.
A majority of the residents voted on Tuesday to approve the deal mediated by former Supreme Court justice Prof. Yitzhak Zamir and University of Haifa legal expert Prof. Mordehai Mironi, who spent two weeks trying to bring the sides to an agreement. Residents did not regard the mediated accord as ideal, but realized they had reached a dead end in their efforts to get a better deal through public pressure, lawsuits and mass walkouts.
The nearly 1,000 residents will receive grants of NIS 60,000 each until the completion of their residency; a day off per week and extra pay for Friday shifts; an additional bonus for doctors who work beyond 20 extra monthly hours in shifts; and the establishment of a follow- up committee in 2015 to determine whether the residents’ agreement has been carried out as planned or if changes need to be made.
In addition, hospitals that require residents to work more than six monthly weekend or late-night shifts will be fined.
The employers will soon order time clocks for installation in departments so managements can determine who is on the hospital campuses rather than moonlighting during working hours. The Treasury demanded this last move, and while doctors furiously spoke out against it, they have now said they don’t mind.
The mediated agreement between the residents and the Treasury, covering 21 pages of text, did not change the spirit or violate the framework of the nine-year labor agreement the IMA signed in the summer, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz reiterated on Thursday.
Prime Minister (and formally Health Minister) Binyamin Netanyahu, who had been strongly criticized during the labor unrest for not getting involved, issued a statement congratulating the sides on reaching a solution.
Levy said the fact that outside mediators had managed to bring an end to the dispute did not mean this unusual method should have been used from the beginning to reach an agreement.
“It doesn’t show that the Finance Ministry negotiators weren’t good enough. Progress was made over months, but the doctors couldn’t reach an agreement.
They weren’t ripe for it.
But when the mediators intervened, they were ready,” he said.
IMA chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman declared that “the public and the doctors can return to the hospitals’ corridors with a feeling of satisfaction.
The big news is that today, Israeli doctors are again operating, catheterizing, anesthetizing, diagnosing and, especially, choosing the right medical alternative to save lives.”
Eidelman, who held a long hunger strike last summer before the initial agreement was inked, added that the new accord was a direct result of the August deal.
He said that the young doctors were returning to work with improved work conditions and pay, and he expressed gratitude to those who had been involved in the effort. However, “there is still much work ahead of us, and the IMA will continue to act without rest for doctors and medicine,” he said.