residents - Moti Milrod - November 17 2011
Medical students protesting in solidarity with the residents at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv on November 16, 2011. The sign at left reads 'Price tag.' Photo by Moti Milrod
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Medical residents and the Finance Ministry signed an agreement early yesterday morning, ending the labor dispute that threatened to bring Israel's health system to its knees over the past nine months. However, the residents said they were disappointed with the agreement and that it does not address the major problems within the system.

The residents said they would resume work following the agreement and revoke the resignation letters tendered by hundreds of doctors in recent months. But their representatives refused to join treasury officials in a news conference after the agreement was signed. Instead they held their own conference in which they voiced their disappointment.

"The agreement signed last night is good for the Finance Ministry and bad for public health," said Dr. Avi Gadot, a resident in Ichilov Hospital's neurological department. "We don't see the agreement as a victory and if there's one big loser, it is public health in Israel.

"Our representatives got the best deal they could, within the treasury's budget limits and after the appalling agreement the Israel Medical Association had signed. Many residents think that although the deal is bad and doesn't address the real problems, it's the right thing to do to resume work now with these achievements due to public responsibility," Gadot added.

"The treasury won and we lost," said Dr. Ariel Margolis, a resident in Meir Hospital's ear, nose and throat department. "The deal doesn't lead to real change in public medicine, and young doctors will continue to leave it. The bed and staff shortage will persist, people will continue to wait hours in line in the emergency room and months for surgery, and doctors will still waste hours on bureaucracy instead of having auxiliary staff to do it.

"We signed because we realized there was no one to talk to," he added. "We were facing a bunch of thugs."

IMA chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman commended the agreement, saying: "The entire doctors' community, including the residents, can return to the hospitals with a sense of satisfaction, with improved work conditions and better pay. We have much work to do and the IMA will continue working incessantly for the doctors in Israel."

Despite the agreement, the medical community is still agitated. The doctors organization Arbel, set up by dissenting physicians who opposed the recent deal signed by the IMA and the treasury, is determined to replace Eidelman and the IMA leadership.

Arbel, which consists of 3,000 hospital doctors, objects mainly to the clocking in system that doctors will be obliged to use from January 1, according to the new agreement.

The doctors' unions in several hospitals intend to take legal action against the agreement.

According to the agreement approved yesterday by 269 residents (and opposed by 163 ), every resident will receive a grant of NIS 60,000 in two stages, and young resident doctors will get paid more for evening and night shifts. Residents who work on weekends will receive a weekly vacation day.

The residents' benefits total NIS 150 million beyond the IMA-treasury deal signed at the end of August, which gave doctors new benefits estimated at NIS 3.1 billion.

It was also agreed to set up a committee, with a resident among its members, to monitor the number of residents' night shifts, and fine hospitals that impose more than six a month.

In addition, it was agreed to reexamine the deal signed between the treasury and the IMA, which the residents strongly oppose. The deal will stay in effect until 2019, but will be reopened for examination in January 2015.