hospital - Nir Keidar - June 21 2011
A nearly empty waiting room at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv Monday. Photo by Nir Keidar
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The doctors' strike will continue today, albeit at a lower intensity than yesterday, after no significant headway was made in talks with the Finance Ministry over their demands for improved employment conditions.

Today through Thursday, only emergency and oncology operations are to be performed. Tomorrow and Thursday, outpatient facilities at all hospitals throughout the country will also be closed.

Representatives of doctors and the Finance Ministry met yesterday night at the Tel Aviv Labor Court in to try and achieve a breakthrough in the talks, which have been going on for months. But very little progress was reported, other than some minor understandings regarding a reduction in the number of shifts to be required of medical residents.

The proposal now under discussion would limit residents to eight shifts a month, as compared to the 10 or more a month that many must do today, particularly in outlying hospitals. The collective agreement signed by the doctors in 2000 called for residents to do no more than six shifts a month, but that agreement allowed for exceptions, which have now become the rule in almost all hospitals.

On Sunday night, a meeting was held at the court to try to reach an agreement on increasing the number of employment slots for doctors. But that session broke up at 3 A.M. yesterday with no agreement.

Yesterday's general strike in the public health system saw all hospitals operating on a Shabbat schedule (i.e. with minimal staff ), while doctors affiliated with the Clalit and Leumit health maintenance organizations did not receive patients at the HMOs' clinics.

Though thousands of operations and treatments were postponed, Dr. Baruch Yitzhak, a member of the Israel Medical Association's national exceptions committee, said there were relatively few applications for exceptions to the strike.

According to the IMA's strike headquarters, hospital exceptions committees received 126 applications to carry out treatments despite the strike, of which 89 were approved.

Among those refused were planned cesarean sections and oncological treatments not deemed life-saving. Those approved included a request from a disabled Israel Defense Forces veteran whose eye operation had already been postponed several times in recent weeks due to the strikes.

"We found that the operation was liable to save his sight, so we permitted it," said Yitzhak.

HMO doctors were instructed to continue fertility and chemotherapy treatments that had already started, but not to begin any new treatments.

Anesthesiologists, meanwhile, are planning an assembly in Nazareth on Friday to discuss ways to intensify their battle to improve their work conditions.

If no progress is made on the doctors' demands by the end of the month, the IMA is threatening to start staffing the hospitals in accordance with the job slots officially allocated by the government, which have not been updated since 1977, and to adhere to the six-shifts-a-month rule for residents. Such measures could cause the public hospitals to collapse.

To date, no significant health problems have been reported as a result of the strike, in accordance with IMA directives to limit the impact on patients as much as possible.

"We know there are problems with this strike, and we are getting letters from the public saying that we're being too soft," said Yitzhak. "But in our profession, our consciences and professional considerations don't allow us to get tough and take steps that would harm patients."