IMA leadership hopeful strike will end next week

1,000 medical residents: We’ll quit in 30 days if deal not good enough.

Dr. Leonid Eidelman and Yuval Steinitz 311 (photo credit: Courtesy: Finance Ministry)
Dr. Leonid Eidelman and Yuval Steinitz 311
(photo credit: Courtesy: Finance Ministry)
Leaders of the Israel Medical Association expressed deep disappointment on Thursday night with the more than 1,000 medical residents from hospitals around the country who sent in signed resignations to management as a demonstrative act.
The residents, who train for five years after seven years of medical school and a year of internship, said they will give up their careers in 30 days, when the letters take effect, if they are not satisfied with the agreement that will come out of the 138-day labor dispute.
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Some of the residents withdrew their resignation late on Thursday night, Israel Radio reported. They said, however, that they were doing so under pressure and that they considered that they were misrepresented by their representatives in the negotiations with the Treasury.
“We are very surprised and disappointed by the residents’ rejection of the IMA’s historic agreement that is being worked out with the government and the other employers,” said Dr. Ze’ev Feldman, a deputy chairman of the IMA, who echoed the sentiments of chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman.
Feldman, a senior pediatric neurosurgeon at Sheba Medical Center’s Safra Hospital at Tel Hashomer, has participated in the long months of negotiations with the Treasury.
“They gave us a cold shower by reacting to Wednesday’s breakthrough in negotiations with such fury,” declared Feldman. “Why are they complaining, if their own chosen representative, Hadassah University Medical Center resident Dr. Meir Mizrahi, endorsed the agreement that is being worked out? Those who signed resignations are making the mistake of their careers. Why don’t they believe their own representative who has been on the IMA negotiating team from the beginning!?” Feldman said he and his IMA colleagues hope that the long doctors’ strike will end sometime next week.
“The residents will eventually realize that it is an excellent agreement. Maybe we just have to allow them to let off steam, and then they will come around. We think that there are forces behind them who are pushing them to extremes. Perhaps we have not explained to them enough about what we have achieved. We send them email messages every day. The residents who tendered their resignation seem only to protest for protest’s sake and do not accept the facts,” Feldman said.
Dr. Miki Heifler, a representative of the Mirsham organization of medical residents, told The Jerusalem Post that he and his colleagues hope a solution to their demands will be reached within a month.
“Nobody wants to leave our profession for which we worked so hard. But there is a limit. We insist on NIS 50 an hour for residents,” he said, giving one of their demands.
Residents currently earn about NIS 25 hourly, but the IMA-Treasury agreement being formulated would give all doctors, including residents, a 50 percent raise.
The residents are demanding that all the clauses in an agreement be implemented within four years, rather than the maximum of eight insisted on by the Treasury and agreed to by the IMA. But Feldman said the IMA is seeing to it that the “vast majority” of the clauses be carried out within three years. Residents who signed their resignations said that their “hands shook” as they held their pens.
Heifler said that he was happy about the 1,000 doctors’ job slots that the Treasury agreed to add to the system.
“There are over 500 medical graduates a year now, and it will increase to 600. That will help fill the ranks in specialties where there is a serious shortage.”
The residents are also happy about the limit of six night and weekend shifts that residents will have to work each month under the accord, instead of the 10 or 11 that they do now.
But while Mirsham favors the agreed-upon incentive bonus of NIS 250,000 to NIS 300,000 per physician who will agree to move to and work in the periphery, Heifler said that doctors who already work in the outlying parts of the country – where the level of medicine is lower than in the center – should get such a bonus as well.
They also want mechanisms to be put into place that would ensure all the Treasury’s promises will indeed be carried out.
“The IMA worked very hard. We are behind their struggle. But we want things that are more relevant to us than to senior doctors,” Heifler insisted.
Eidelman, who ended his 12- day hunger strike when announcing the breakthrough on Wednesday night, sat in negotiation sessions with the Treasury all day until 8 p.m. The intensive talks will continue.
Eidelman broke his fast with juice and is now eating baby food that is easier to digest; in a few days he will begin eating solids and normal food.
Feldman said that Eidelman’s drastic decision to go on a hunger strike pushed the struggle more into public view and helped lead to the breakthrough in talks.
Feldman said that the 1,000 new job slots could be filled with the 600 medical graduates who will be produced annually, as well as with Israelis who studied medicine abroad and meet Israeli standards, and Israeli emigrant doctors who long to bring their families back home.
“I have met them,” he said. “They want to raise their families here.”
As for finding enough physicians to work in the periphery, the Sheba surgeon said that with more young medical graduates, “medical facilities in the Center will fill up and others will seek jobs in the outlying areas.”
Asked about the Treasury demand that hospital physicians be required to punch time clocks, or use a special cellphone system, to prove that they are indeed on the job and not doing private work, Feldman said the IMA has long been opposed to this but is now considering it.
Many young doctors are now in favor, he added, because they can also prove with such a system that they are doing overtime and will be paid for it.
The Sheba neurosurgeon said that not only senior physicians oppose the Treasury’s idea that those under age 47 work two weekend or night shifts a month, but the residents themselves are against it.
The Treasury and Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman have demanded this arrangement so that patients are not left with junior physicians on off hours. But Feldman said “this doesn’t occur mandatorily in any country, and senior doctors who are on call while at home are required to come to the hospital in half an hour if the case is urgent.”
Asked about Litzman’s insistence that residents’ duty hours be reduced from 24 to 20, Feldman said “this is not relevant. This would not make any difference in their lives.”
He added that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who helped pave the way to the breakthrough by inviting Eidelman to his Jerusalem residence and sending his director-general to the Treasury to push negotiations forward, “deserves credit, not Litzman, who pushed impractical ideas. If the prime minister is interested in something, officials under him also become interested.
“Eighty percent of hospital activity occurs by midnight. There are hospitals where senior doctors already remain until then or even all night to give patients better treatment,” Feldman said.