Israeli medical staff furious as plan for shorter shifts delayed again

The Finance Ministry said there are not enough physicians available to quickly shorten their workloads and did not agree to allocate large sums to pay for more.

 A woman wearing a medical scrub in the resident's protests of the 26-hour shifts. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)
A woman wearing a medical scrub in the resident's protests of the 26-hour shifts.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI)

Although the Health Ministry promised last October to speed up the implementation of a plan to shorten shifts for hospital residents from 26 to 18 hours, the plan has again been delayed until September 2023, to the chagrin of thousands of young doctors who are members of the Mirsham organization.

The government’s announcement on Sunday infuriated the doctors, who had received promises last fall of urgent implementation after more than 2,500 physicians temporarily resigned and ultimately returned to work. The Treasury has been saying all along that there are not enough hospital physicians available to quickly shorten their workloads. It has also not agreed to allocate the large sums needed to pay for more.

Lackluster implementation

The plan to gradually shorten shifts was supposed to take effect months ago in 10 hospitals in the periphery of the country. Further implementation around the country was vague, and residents in big-city hospitals in the country’s center protested that they were being excluded.

The government promised last year that after the pilot program in the periphery was implemented, it would include all medical centers if a committee established to look into the problem could ensure that medical care would not deteriorate and if money would be allocated.

 MED STUDENTS demonstrate in Tel Aviv in support of doctors, interns and residents who resigned in protest of 26-hour-shifts and heavy workload in hospitals, October 17, 2021 (credit: MIRSHAM) MED STUDENTS demonstrate in Tel Aviv in support of doctors, interns and residents who resigned in protest of 26-hour-shifts and heavy workload in hospitals, October 17, 2021 (credit: MIRSHAM)

Two decades ago, hospital resident shifts were even longer, when they remained on the job 36 hours at a time. Many studies have shown that long shifts reduce the quality of medical care and even increase the risk of road accidents among doctors driving home.

The Health Ministry said the decision to postpone implementation was made by Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara.