Leonid Eidelman
Leonid Eidelman Photo by Michal Fattal
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Hundreds of doctors are expected to take part today in a demonstration organized by the Israel Medical Association opposite the Knesset to protest the lack of progress in talks between the doctors and the Finance Ministry.

Medical students from Israel's four university medical schools will stage a one-day strike today in solidarity with the doctors.

Dr. Leonid Eidelman, chairman of the IMA, said the protest was an effort to "move the talks ahead to find solutions to save the collapsing public health care system."

The Knesset plans to hold an emergency session today, at the initiative of MK Rachel Adatto (Kadima ) and her faction, one the crisis in the health care system. According to Adatto, who herself is a physician: "The government's disregard for problems in the public health care system and the attempt by the treasury to create media spins about gaps in income [between residents and more senior doctors] and to drive a wedge between residents and specialists, will lead doctors to abandon the public health care system for private medicine."

Adatto said this would deepen the crisis over doctors' pay and human resources and "damage the ability to achieve excellence in the health care system."

Meanwhile, Haaretz has learned that the IMA has sent a questionnaire to Meuhedet HMO physicians to update its database in advance of a campaign to bring them under the association's umbrella.

Meuhedet has 3,500 physicians, most of whom are independently employed.

Several years ago, a similar move to bring independently employed doctors working for Clalit into the IMA was reportedly thwarted by Clalit management.

The IMA currently represents 17,000 doctors employed by government hospitals, the Clalit HMO clinics and hospitals, the Leumit HMO clinics and hospitals in Jerusalem owned by NGOs (Hadassah University Hospital, Shaare Zedek and Bikur Holim ).

According to a statement issued by Meuhedet: "Meuhedet respects its physicians and does not interfere in their right to organize. As far as management knows, most of the HMO's doctors are long-time members of the Israel Medical Association."

Out of concern that a doctors' strike would shut down community clinics, Dr. Moshe Kostiner, head of the Clalit physicians' organization, urged the IMA not to call such a strike in haste. In a letter, he wrote that such a strike could lead patients to switch to the Maccabi HMO and to independent physicians who are not part of the protest.

The Finance Ministry and the doctors returned yesterday to negotiations, which broke off before Passover, holding a nighttime meeting in the offices of the IMA during which no headway was reported.

The doctors held off on sanctions during the interim days of Passover.

The IMA has not announced its next steps, but it is believed that if there is no breakthrough in the talks, the doctors may embark on another strike, perhaps for an unlimited period.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was updated yesterday on the talks during a meeting with representatives of the treasury and the Health Ministry. At the meeting, the prime minister said he supported the Finance Ministry's demand that the doctors punch time clocks and that the number of doctors in outlying areas be increased. He said negotiations should focus on these conditions as well as encouraging doctors to choose specialties in which physicians are lacking.

But Netanyahu has reportedly still not decided whether to intervene in the talks between the doctors and the treasury.

In a statement, the IMA said: "We are pleased that the Finance Ministry understands that the issue of public medicine is important enough to bring it to the prime minister's doorstep. Unfortunately, so far, the Finance Ministry has not come forward in the talks with concrete solutions to save public medicine."