MK Yaakov Litzman Sept. 16, 2010 Emil Salman
Former Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman Photo by Emil Salman
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Amid efforts to counter the walkout of over 700 of the country's medical residents, beginning this week, hospitals are taking steps to deal with potential staff shortages caused by the resignations.

Monday, hospitals began cancelling upcoming patient appointments and deferring nonurgent surgery in case the resignations take effect.

Although the Israel Medical Association struck an agreement with the Finance Ministry in August, hundreds of medical residents remain dissatisfied with their work conditions and submitted letters of resignation.

About 80 percent of the letters have an effective date sometime this week.

"The patients are being held hostage," said Meidad Gissin, who chairs Zvi, the consumers' health association. The dispute in which the medical system is embroiled should not take place on the backs of the patients themselves, he said yesterday. "Resignations are a precedent for a dangerous process, inasmuch as tomorrow the nurses, X-ray technicians and the other workers in the public health system will get up and resign," he added.

Gissin said the threatened resignations are misguided and would cause irreversible damage to the patients and their families. "Don't exploit the silence and restraint of patients in Israel that are dependent on the public health system, lying quietly in the wards and corridors. And now, God forbid, they are liable to die, if they don't stop the resignations," he warned.

A special session of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee is scheduled for tomorrow, to be attended by Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and members of the health and finance ministries, as well as representatives of the Israel Medical Association and residents who are due to resign.

Committee chairman Haim Katz said the session is an effort to head off the resignations, or at least defer them until after this month's holidays.

The Health Ministry has developed a plan if the resignations go ahead, which includes consolidation of hospital departments, closing internal medicine departments, using medical interns, the use of candidates for medical residencies and drafting community physicians into hospitals.

In addition, Litzman is proposing an expedited process through which Israelis who studied medicine abroad can begin working here.

The proposal would include eliminating the requirement that they take qualifying exams, so they could replace the absent medical residents.

However, professional staff at the ministry have been highly critical of the proposal.

Most Israelis who study medicine abroad do so after failing to gain acceptance here. Most attend schools in Hungary, Romania or Italy. The only countries whose medical graduates are currently exempt from taking qualifying exams before practicing in Israel are the United States, France, Britain, Australia and South Africa.

The Israeli qualifying exam is considered extremely rigorous, with fewer than 30 percent of medical school graduates receiving passing grades.