Doctors' strike - Ofer Vaknin
Public-sector doctors at a press conference, March 3, 2011. Photo by Ofer Vaknin
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Public-sector doctors will be launching a two-day warning strike beginning at 7 A.M. tomorrow that will affect hospitals and health clinics across the country, marking the first time in more than a decade that Israeli physicians will agitate for better conditions by refusing to work.

As part of the strike, all general public hospitals and geriatric and psychiatric medical centers that are run by the government or the Clalit health maintenance organization will be operating at reduced capacity, as they do on Saturdays. Doctors at Shaare Zedek Medical Center and both branches of the Hadassah University Hospital, all in Jerusalem, will also be working at a reduced level.

Non-emergency operations will be postponed and doctors at hospital outpatient clinics will not receive patients. Emergency rooms and maternity wards will remain open, and treatment will continue in dialysis, oncology and in vitro fertilization units, though at a below-normal capacity.

Only on-call doctors are supposed to show up at the hospitals participating in the strike, the Israeli Medical Association has announced.

For at least one day, doctors at Clalit and Leumit HMO clinics - which together insure 62 percent of the population, or 4.7 million people - will not see patients. At the end of the day tomorrow, union officials will decide whether to continue the strike at the clinics for a second day.

The Health Ministry is planning to issue guidelines to hospitals and health clinics this morning in an effort to make sure that as many services as possible are still being provided.

Dr. Leonid Eidelman, chairman of the Israeli Medical Association, said the goal of the warning strike was to prod the Finance Ministry to become more flexible. Doctors have been negotiating with the government for better work conditions, including a 50-percent increase in hourly wages, for more than eight months.

"For nearly 11 years we have refrained from striking, and the treasury has taken advantage of our commitment in order to hang the health-care system out to dry," said Eidelman. "The health-care system is collapsing from day to day. We have submitted a rescue plan for the system that should bring good news to the residents of Israel, but the treasury is continuing to drag its feet. We cannot continue to lend a hand to the destruction of the public health-care system."

Today marks two weeks since the medical association declared a labor conflict in the public sector, which set the stage for the strike. The last doctors' strike took place in 2000 and lasted four-and-a-half months.

There are large gaps between the positions of the medical association and the treasury, which even disagree over the facts. The government says physicians currently earn an average of NIS 26,322 a month, but the doctors say the actual figure is NIS 24,000.

In addition to the pay raise, doctors are also demanding a pension fund, financial incentives for those who work in outlying areas or specialize in understaffed fields including neonatology and pediatric oncology, and more time to see patients. Doctors at health clinics are currently allotted 10 minutes per patient, and are seeking to increase that to 12-15 minutes.