Doctors strike protest
Doctors protesting in Tel Aviv in May 2011. Photo by Motti Milrod
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Negotiations to end the nationwide hospital strike collapsed yesterday, with both sides agreeing to take their claims to a labor court on Sunday.

Israel Medical Association delegates stormed out of a meeting with Finance Ministry officials in Tel Aviv, where they were discussing ways to reduce both the number of shifts worked by medical residents and the length of the shifts. The talks were being mediated by the Tel Aviv Labor Court.

The impetus for the walk-out was the IMA's discovery that the treasury and the Health Ministry had already agreed to implement Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman's plan to reduce shift lengths from 24 to 20 hours by using the 160 new physician positions that the government had agreed to provide a year ago. These positions were originally meant to boost the staff of hospitals in the periphery.

Later in the day, IMA officials met with the heads of hospitals across the country and announced that sanctions would resume on Sunday.

"We found that both we and the labor court had been brazenly cheated," the organization said in a statement. "The agreement that was reached means everybody loses and nobody gains. Not the residents, who will keep doing more shifts and more hours because of a shortage of staff, and certainly not the periphery, which lost its hope for the alleviation of its distress."

The treasury responded that the government had decided to add more new positions to improve service in the periphery, and it believed agreements could be reached on the matter in the next few days.

The Health Ministry said it sees reducing the burden on medical residents as a vital mission, and it therefore demanded that their shifts be shortened by adding more positions. "The ministry reached an agreement with the treasury to allocate all the new positions to the hospitals by the end of 2012, and an additional 100 by the end of 2013," it said.