Eidelman denies president's appeal to stop hunger strike

Treasury and IMA to set up working teams to reach agreement on remaining issues but next week's sanctions announced.

IMA protest 311 (photo credit: JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH)
IMA protest 311
The Treasury and the Israel Medical Association have agreed to set up “working teams” to focus intensively on the remaining issues in the 130-day-long labor dispute that are preventing an agreement with the doctors from being signed, both sides said Thursday.
IMA chairman, Dr. Leonid Eidelman, said he will nevertheless continue his hunger strike that he launched Monday to get Prime Minister, and formal health minister, Binyamin Netanyahu to intervene in the intricate situation – even though President Shimon Peres called and asked him to stop his hunger strike.
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“I will continue until an agreement is reached or until I collapse,” the chairman said.
Eidelman, a senior anesthesiologist, is due to conclude his march from IMA headquarters in Ramat Gan to the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem around midday on Friday and then sit in a tent over Shabbat with some colleagues and continue his hunger strike.
Peres was responding to numerous appeals by hospital directors and other doctors to persuade the IMA chief to halt his one-man fast. He has been drinking only water while marching towards Jerusalem. Eidelman was supposed to reach the capital on Thursday morning, but the heat and the Israel Police’s decision not to allow him and other demonstrators to walk all the way via Highway 1 changed the schedule.
The president asked Eidelman to preserve his health and return to the negotiating table to find a quick solution to the dispute that would improve public medicine in the country.
“The whole country is watching you. You have proven your leadership and courage, and you are bearing on your shoulders an important message of promoting and improving public medicine,” Peres said. “As president, I appeal to you... You are precious to us.” The IMA chief responded that he is in good condition and not yet suffering from a health problem due to his self-imposed hunger strike. He thanked Peres for his concern, and said his call strengthened him. In recent days, Peres has been talking to senior ministers from whom he got the impression that they are ready to bring about an end to the crisis and prevent suffering to many patients.
The IMA is organizing a massive demonstration titled “Where did Netanyahu disappear” on Sunday at 11 a.m. in the Rose Garden near the Knesset as a show of strength by doctors around the country, just as it did when it launched the strike in early April.
On that day, public hospitals around the country will observe a Shabbat schedule, which will reduce medical services to a minimum. Outpatient clinics, diagnostic institutes and day hospitals will be closed except for emergencies. Community services will function normally in health fund clinics.
Meanwhile, head of the opposition and Kadima head MK Tzipi Livni marched with Eidelman for a portion of his march towards Jerusalem along with Kadima MK Rachel Adatto, a physician by training who is head of the Knesset’s health lobby. Livni criticized Netanyahu for refusing to show leadership by failing to intervene in the doctor’s dispute.
“The time has come for Netanyahu himself to get in under Israel’s stretcher and intervene,” Livni said.
Adatto said public support for the doctors’ cause was almost unanimous and that “almost every driver who passes voices his support and strengthens us.”
Although Netanyahu had no inclination to intervene in the doctors’ strike despite the IMA chief’s hunger strike, the prime minister did meet with Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman yesterday for a briefing to hear his plan to provide geriatric nursing coverage to all Israelis.
Such coverage is not included in the basket of health services.
Litzman, according to a short Health Ministry press release, said he would hold briefings next week about his plan. The deputy minister issued a similar announcement at Tuesday’s Israel Medical Convention organized by the Hadassah Medical Organization. But he provided no details in the press release, though mentioning that Netanyahu praised Litzman for his initiative.
Directors of the three largest state hospitals – Zeev Rotstein of Sheba, Gabi Barbash of Tel Aviv Sourasky and Rafael Beyar of Rambam medical centers – decided to join Eidelman’s march towards Jerusalem for about an hour until the rest stop at Kibbutz Tzuba on Thursday evening.
They said they would call on the government to bring a halt to the strike and reach “an historic settlement that would prevent the collapse of the public health system.” They also called on Eidelman to stop his hunger strike immediately and voiced their support for the doctors’ “justified demands” while suggesting ways to find a way out of the dead end.