medical resident, medical residents, doctors strike
Residents holding a press conference on August 28, 2011. They do not support the treasury’s agreement with doctors. Photo by Ofer Vaknin
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his other role as health minister, must intervene to prevent the mass resignation of hundreds of young medical residents from taking effect next week, representatives of the group told a press conference Sunday.

The panel of young doctors that was formed to represent and bolster the residents' protests claims that the wage agreement signed at the end of last week to great fanfare actually represented no progress at all.

"It turns out that the deal that was on the table when the Israel Medical Association chairman started his hunger strike, and the one that was signed now, are exactly the same," said Dr. Meirav Ingbir, a young nephrologist at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv.

The residents' group quoted an interview with a senior Finance Ministry staffer that was published over the weekend, in which the official said it was the same agreement with only minor changes.

The residents who examined the agreement closely over the weekend claim that it will not allow any significant change in the salaries of doctors in the public health system.

According to Ingbir, "In another nine years we'll get an average increase of 32 percent to our salaries, while we would have gotten 31.5 percent if our salaries had been linked to the Consumer Price Index. So beyond the CPI, the increase is a mere half percent."

According to the group, the data presented when the deal was signed and indicated an average wage increase of 49 percent, were predicated on a schedule of additional regular and on-call shifts that are not currently performed by most residents.

They also criticize the fact that the regulation protecting their salaries against inflation goes into effect only in 2013, and thereafter wage increases will be given only if the CPI goes up more than 5 percent.

The doctors also say that the grants of between NIS 300,000-NIS 500,000 meant for physicians who move to the periphery and/or choose to specialize in a field in which there is a shortage of staff does not appear anywhere in the signed agreement.

Furthermore, they claim that while they will be required to punch a time clock, there is no indication of how the government will pay for overtime hours.

The young doctors' panel issued updated statistics on the number of resignations to go into effect on September 4, and cited a total of 1,067. While several hospital directors last week said that dozens of residents had retracted their resignations, the group of representatives said it hadn't heard of any, "and if letters were withdrawn, it's only a handful."

Last week Health Ministry director general Prof. Roni Gamzu wanted to calm the situation down, but the residents did not show up for a scheduled meeting with him.

Should these young doctors walk out, the Health Ministry will order specialists to do their shifts, and begin shifting patients from one hospital to another, merging departments to deal with the emergency situation.

Yesterday, a group representing interns, in their last year of medical school, announced that they support the residents' struggle and will not agree to work instead of those who resign.

"If the agreement signed with the treasury representatives is not reopened and fixed so that it addresses the demands of the young doctors' representatives - we have no intention of starting our residencies," the interns' group said, adding, "We will find alternatives outside the public health system."

The ministry says it has instructed hospital administrators to prepare a work plan to implement in case the resignations go into effect, "which covers regular shift schedules, surgical schedules, and other parameters involved in the functioning of the hospitals.

"It is our responsibility to prevent additional suffering to patients who have suffered enough damage during the past half year from service disruptions, and to keep the system stable," the ministry said, calling on the residents to find some other way to protest.