Medical residents protesting - Daniel Bar-On - 11102011
Medical residents protesting against the agreement signed between the treasury and the IMA. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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Hundreds of medical interns demonstrated Monday evening outside the Tel Aviv Museum in response to the Israel National Labor Court decision to forbid them from collectively resigning.

Protesters waved signs and called for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who acts as health minister, to solve the current crisis in the wake of stalled negotiations between the interns and the government.

Professional doctors, medical students, and family members also came to the event, showing their support for the protesting interns. Social workers and psychologists also joined the protest against what they see as poor work conditions.

During the demonstration, the Israel Medical Association announced that it would not hesitate to call for an elongated national strike for all medical students if forthright government measures are not taken in order to solve the crisis.

The demonstration comes after medical students called for a one-day strike in several medical school faculties.

The protest follows a massive walkout earlier this month by medical interns following protracted negotiations between the government and the intern's representatives. The interns were dissatisfied with the nine year agreement that was reached this August between the Israel Medical Association and the government on the doctors' terms of employment.

Interns have expressed particular dissatisfaction with the long duration of the pact and have also sought wage concessions as well as changes to provisions related to on-call night shifts at hospitals by young specialist physicians.

When hundreds of the interns recently submitted letters of resignation, the government turned to the National Labor Court seeking injunctions that would have at least limited the impact of the interns' resignations by staggering them in departments where more than half of the residents had announced their intention to quit.

Medical administrators have been eagerly awaiting possible action by the labor court on the issue. The court deemed an earlier mass submission of letters of resignation by the interns as illegal collective labor action. Hundreds of residents then resubmitted letters stating that they would resign and took the position that each letter should be construed as an individual step.

For his part, Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman has repeated his intention to expedite the integration of Israeli graduates from medical schools abroad, from countries whose medical training Israel does not currently automatically recognize.

The interns have demanded provisions that would cost the government NIS 400 million, while the Finance Ministry at one point offered NIS 100 million in concessions, in addition to the NIS 2.5 billion that the agreement reached with the IMA in August provides in new funding for the health care system.

The Prime Minister's Office issued a statement after the walkout, calling on the residents to "demonstrate responsibility and return to the hospitals," adding that they have been given a generous offer that would substantially improve their work conditions.

A team of experts convened by the protest movement leadership has made a number of proposals related to the public health system, including increases in funding for the system, increasing the number of nurses and the elimination of patient co-payments for medical services.