Meir Hospital - Alon Ron
A nurse walking down the nearly empty halls of the outpatient clinic at Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava, May 3, 2011. Photo by Alon Ron
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The Director General of Clalit Health Services, Eli Depes, told TheMarker yesterday that the chances for a breakthrough within a few weeks in the contract negotiations between the country's physicians and the Finance Ministry was "next to nil." Depes and Health Ministry Director General Prof. Roni Gamzu called on both parties to be more serious about the negotiations. He said both sides were afraid to take the first step, and urged the parties to go to arbitration.

Meanwhile, this week the Israel Medical Association declared an end to its tiff with the Finance Ministry's supervisor of budgets, Ilan Levin, after the latter wrote a letter saying his remark in a recent interview calling the doctors were "murderers" had been taken out of context.

All Israeli hospitals were on a weekend footing yesterday, and dozens of treatments and operations were postponed. The Israel Medical Association said that 55 of the 100 requests for urgent care or surgery were approved by the exceptions committee.

Physicians belonging to Clalit planned to hold sanctions at the clinics of the health maintenance organization in the Sharon-Samaria region and in the south of the country today. Their colleagues in the Leumit Health Fund were planning sanctions in the Jerusalem region. Nursing, X-ray, pharmacy and administrative services will be provided as usual in those clinics.

Sanctions are planned for tomorrow at all hospitals from Tel Aviv south.

The treasury has offered to increase the salaries of some doctors by 20 percent. The physicians are demanding a universal pay hike of 50 percent and additional benefits. They are also asking that more positions be allocated.

Depes said one one obstacle to progress in negotiations was the large number of people involved."You have 25 people sitting in the room - including representatives of the parties, lawyers, advisers, deputies and various aides to both sides ... people speak as much to their own advisers and deputies as to the other side, trying to appear determined and making their position more extreme," Depes said.

He said that the fact that everything said is recorded in the minutes makes people careful about what they say.

The parties did not meet yesterday, despite the sanctions, and are not scheduled to meet again until tomorrow. Depes said that progress would be made if the sides met more often and at greater length each time.

He said he was frustrated with the doctors because the treasury had upped its pay increase offer from 12 percent to 20 percent. "But we don't see the Israel Medical Association coming toward the employers," Depes said.