Medical residents set to resign - court urges delay

Sides in hospital residents' dispute hope compromise -- or at least delay of walkouts -- will lead to solution of crisis.

Doctors Demonstrate 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Doctors Demonstrate 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Over 700 medical residents, their employers and the government were hoping Monday night that some compromise could be found to avert the most acute blow facing the public health system -- the young doctors’ resignations, leaving a gaping hole in manpower to treat hospital patients. All the sides had much to lose, as the physicians would not be given their jobs back once they carried out their threats to leave, and the Health Ministry desperately looked for other doctors to fill their places.
Their representatives were late Monday present at the National Labor Court, which was hearing a request from government lawyers for restraining orders to ensure that all the doctors not be allowed to resign simultaneously but rather to do so gradually -- if they insist on leaving -- to give the ministry time to locate substitutes.Court president Judge Nili Arad advised residents to suspend their letters of resignation for the next 10 days and continue negotiations with the IMA and the Health and Finance Ministries under the auspices of the court. Arad also advised the Health and Finance Ministries to delay the discussion of injunctions to prevent resignations.
In its request, the state also asked the court to rule that the doctors' resignations are collective in nature and therefore illegal and void, and to prevent Mirsham, the voluntary organization representing the residents, from encouraging what it called the "illegal activities" of doctors in violation of the court's previous ruling in early September. 
The medical residents, largely from government hospitals in the center of the country, will have to return immediately their equipment -- from stethoscopes to cellular phones and laptops -- and entry cards to the hospitals if they do not turn up for work on Tuesday. According to a report on TV’s Channel 2, the Civil Service Commission sent the residents warning letters before Rosh Hashana saying that anyone who lived in government hospital facilities would have to leave immediately and that none of them would be re-accepted to their positions at a later date.
The doctors -- who have been joined in the protest by a few dozen medical specialists -- are protesting what they call improper treatment in the new labor agreement signed by the Israel Medical Association five weeks ago. They want higher wages, better conditions and more respect, they said.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz urged the doctors to cancel their resignation letters and accept the conditions of the contract signed by the IMA, the doctors’ only officially recognized representative body. IMA chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman said the association opposed the state’s request for restraining orders and added that while the contract could not be renegotiated, some additional benefits could be added by the employers.
The National Health Council, meeting in Jerusalem on Monday, also called on the residents to suspend their resignation letters until the end of the High Holidays to give time for talks to find a solution and prevent risk to human life.
If the residents and specialists actually resign, outpatient clinics will minimize their services; the number of nurses and midwives in obstetrics departments will be increased; and non-emergency operations will be reduced to a minimum. Vacations by department heads and other senior doctors will be canceled in the eventuality of resignations. Departments that have a serious shortage of manpower will be assisted by duty doctors in the community, and veteran doctors -- even pensioners -- will do work that residents usually do. But these arrangements cannot go on for more than a few weeks.
The ministry will issue a press bulletin daily if the doctors do not show up at work. The ministry will set up a situation room to inform patients and relatives of the latest developments, and a ministry team will visit affected hospitals and try to alleviate problems that arise.
The Knesset Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee scheduled an urgent session on Wednesday at 12.30 p.m. to discuss the hospital crisis. Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman and ministry director-general Prof. Ronni Gamzu are expected to attend.