Medical Residents: Israel Needs 1,000 New Doctors Now

Dan Even
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Dan Even

Hundreds of medical residents walked off the job for at least a few minutes and some for hours yesterday morning to protest the agreement that is taking shape between the Finance Ministry and the Israel Medical Association to end the doctors' strike.

According to the head of the Mirsham advocacy group of medical residents, Yona Weissbuch, who is himself a resident at Beilinson Hospital, he and his colleagues won't hesitate at setting up a labor organization independent of the IMA to press their demands.

Dr. Yona Weissbuch, a resident at Beilinson Hospital. Credit: Tal Cohen

"[Yesterday] morning, when the basic provisions of the agreement began to trickle out and a presentation of the main points was made, we saw that the bottom line was not [good] news, and the rebellion began," Weissbuch said, adding that they were informed that an additional 650 doctor positions would be added over five years. "We're talking about additions that will not change the current situation. We need 1,000 positions tomorrow."

Weissbuch rejected the Finance Ministry's contention that there are currently not enough doctors to fill all those positions: "There are 800 Israeli doctors who studied abroad and recently failed the difficult exam given by the Health Ministry, and they could fill the ranks. The system needs more than 2,000 slots, and 1,000 immediately as breathing room. A wage increase, even of significant percentages, cannot improve the level of service."

What will happen if doctors are not added to the system?

"It will be a very serious situation. If positions are not added, the lines in emergency rooms will remain what they have been, patients on respirators will continue to stay in internal medicine wards because there won't be a slot for intensive care beds, and we'll continue to see situations in which an intern in his seventh year of studies is responsible at night for internal medicine wards. What will affect the public the most is not solutions like wage increases or punching a time clock but additional positions in the system."

What is your stance on the duration of the agreement in question? Eight years or even longer? "An eight-year agreement is not good news, rather it simply drags things out. For example, with regard to residents being on call, at the beginning they were telling us that we will go down to eight periods on call per month and then gradually to six a month. Why drag things out? As far back as 2000, the state committed in a collective agreement that a resident would do six times on call a month and that additional call would be approved by the hospital directors but the clause was never enforced; and in practice there are residents who are on call 10 times a month or more. Reducing the number of times on call requires an immediate addition of positions to the public health system."

When asked about his organization's next steps if the doctors' strike is settled, Weissbuch said efforts are under way to transform his non-profit organization into a group that would represented medical residents by getting the support of at least 30 percent of them. "If necessary, we can organize an agency alongside the Israel Medical Association," he said, but added: "We have no interest in coming out against the Israel Medical Association, but rather to apply pressure on the system and not be its fig leaf. On a daily basis, we carry the burden of the public health system on our shoulders."