Medical residents - Daniel Bar-On - 16112011
Medical residents meeting in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. The resignations are set to take effect in one month. Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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On Tuesday, more than 100 specialists, including dozens of prominent department heads, resigned from government hospitals in the center and north of the country. They acted in support of medical residents in their months-long dispute with the state over the collective bargaining agreement for all doctors that was signed in August.

The move came as nearly 200 medical interns - out of about 1,000 working in Israeli hospitals - walked off their jobs for two hours, and in some cases longer, expressing solidarity with the residents.

The Supreme Court has scheduled a hearing for tomorrow morning on the residents' petition against a National Labor Court injunction which has blocked their resignations. A three-judge panel, headed by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch and including justices Hanan Melcer and Esther Hayut, will hear the case.

The new wave of resignations began Tuesday morning with 40 senior physicians at Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital. It continued to ripple out until at least 112 specialists had submitted resignation letters: 31 at Haifa's Rambam Medical Center, 21 at Schneider Children's Medical Center of Israel in Petah Tikva and 20 at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer. Additional doctors from Ichilov, Sheba and Kfar Sava's Meir Hospital are expected to hand in their letters over the next two days.

The resignations are set to take effect in one month.

A storm was unleashed when Rambam administrators ordered two of their physicians - Dr. Yehuda Ullmann, director of the department of plastic surgery, and Dr. Avi Weissman, head of ambulatory anesthesia - to leave immediately. The administration backed down after colleagues at Rambam and other government hospitals protested, with some even threatening to close their hospitals to new patients unless the decision was reversed.

After the incident, no one in the government health system was willing to take direct responsibility for the order to terminate Ullmann's and Weissman's employment immediately. "It never happened," a Rambam administrator said, while the Civil Service Commission stated before the reversal that it was unfamiliar with and did not issue the directive. It added, however, that its permission was not required for the move.

"These are pressure tactics aimed at terrorizing senior physicians who have decided to step down so that they'll reverse their decision," a senior figure at Rambam said. The doctors who handed in their resignations are at peace with the decision, which came after all the negotiations between the state and the medical residents failed and out of "great pain," the source emphasized. "It's not quitting over money but rather a call to the government to wake up soon and fix the situation," he said.

On Tuesday, some hospitals declined to identify the doctors who submitted their resignations, but some of their identities are known. At Ichilov they include Dr. Zvi Ram, head of neurosurgery; Dr. Jerry Weiss, head of plastic surgery; cardiothoracic surgery head Dr. Yosef Paz; and Dr. Amnon Mosek, head of the neurology department's headache clinic and deputy head of neurology, among other department heads.

In a statement issued by Mirsham, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the rights of young Israeli physicians, the interns said they would "not be the next slaves of the public health system," bound by what they called the "bad contract" forced on us by the Israel Medical Association, which negotiated the agreement signed in August.

Activists with Mirsham added that they did not fear retribution over the move since they were not represented by the IMA, as they are not officially considered doctors.

Responding to news of the resignations, the Health Ministry said in a statement: "The ministry administration is very concerned about the burden added by the senior physicians to the existing hardships. The resignations of the residents constitute a great crisis as it is, and the senior physicians have been asked to stabilize the system that is so precious to us all - that cares for patients."

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: בפרקליטות מבקשים לפעול נגד המתמחים במישור הפלילי