Strike by public hospital doctors likely after Pessah

Only urgent surgery to treat cancer patients will be performed today and tomorrow; Brazilai Hospital in Ashkelon will not participate in strike.

doctors operation generic 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
doctors operation generic 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Israel Medical Association, whose members held workers’ assemblies on Sunday morning, thinks there will be no choice but to continue existing sanctions or intensify them after Pessah due to the Treasury’s “refusal to negotiate seriously” over major reform necessary in the health system.
“I see no progress at all,” IMA chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman told The Jerusalem Post pessimistically.
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“We haven’t set exact schedules, but it looks as if a strike is in the offing. However, we will do our best not to harm patients.”
On Monday and Tuesday, only urgent surgery to treat cancer patients will be done and no elective operations will be performed.
Other services will continue in the hospitals.
On Wednesday, all public hospitals will operate on reduced Shabbat schedules, with outpatient clinics closed as well (except for urgent outpatient and inpatient cases approved by special committees).
Brazilai Hospital in Ashkelon will not participate in the strike due to the missiles fired from Gaza into the region.
Eleven years ago, the IMA held its last official strike, which lasted for 127 days. After much disruption, an agreement was reached for no doctors’ strikes for 10 years, in exchange for which the IMA received agreement from the Treasury for arbitration.
But this stage took eight years to complete; only late last year did the doctors receive the benefits under the final phase of the 2000 agreement, by which time a new contract had to be negotiated.
Eidelman, a veteran anesthesiologist – a specialty that suffers from a severe shortage of physicians, like numerous other key fields – said that generous wage hikes are far from enough. The whole public healthcare system structure has to be rebuilt and balanced to prevent it from collapsing in the face of too-few doctors, inadequate infrastructure and the burgeoning of the private hospital system, which is much stronger than it was in 2000, he said.
Eidelman is aware of the fact that with 500 beds in fancy hospitals and consultation offices around the country, private medicine could benefit greatly from a strike by the IMA’s 20,000 members.
Therefor, Eidelman is careful about making statements that every medical service would be hit by a strike – which is impossible anyway because lifesaving operations and treatments are not postponed by physicians, who never walk off completely.
A strike would involve some health fund services but would focus mostly on public hospitals, Eidelman said. He also wants physicians working for the Health Ministry – whose Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, he charges, “is not on the doctors’ side” and has long crossed swords with IMA leaders – to join the strike, so the ministry will also feel it.
A week ago, Litzman angered the IMA by noting in a Army Radio interview that “it is a curiosity” that during the 2000 doctors’ strike, “deaths declined,” as if to hint that having them out of hospitals would somehow not harm patients.
Litzman has also made introducing private medical services in the public hospitals – paid for by “Shaban” supplementary health insurance policies that cover 75 percent of the population – his “solution for the health system,” when the IMA says this is only a side issue that it hasn’t even brought up.
The IMA insists that the shortage of physicians, nurses and other professionals that makes work in starved public hospital departments so frustrating is the major issue, along with the need to boost health services in the periphery, reduce the burden on underpaid interns and residents and hike retired doctors’ pensions calculated without all the extra benefits in off hours.
Private medical services in the public hospitals, said Eidelman, could be possible in the periphery, where people cannot choose a senior physician to operate because they aren’t there in adequate numbers; those who pay supplementary health insurance in the outer regions in the country do not benefit.
But Ben-Gurion University health economist Prof. Gabi Bin- Nun – who worked for a quarterof- a-century in the Health Ministry and always strongly opposed private medical care in public hospitals – declared that Sharap/Shaban there would be the end of the public healthcare system.
Litzman’s proposal, Bin-Nun insisted, would institute a twoclass system, discriminating against those who could not afford to pay, especially the elderly who use the most services. Supplementary health insurance policies, to which patients would inevitably have to pay an additional 20 percent from their own pocket, would skyrocket, further widening the gap. “If you cut the queue for payers, you lengthen the queue for nonpayers,” Bin-Nun declared.
“There is no other choice than for the government to increase public funding of the health system and strengthen it. There is no free lunch.”
Meanwhile, students at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Medical Faculty demonstrated Sunday outside a conference attended by Prime Minister and formal Health Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, demanding that he “save the public health system by reliving the difficult conditions under which doctors work.”