Doctors in State Hospitals Launch Partial Strike Today

Hospitals to be staffed by skeleton crews, clinics closed.

Doctors at state-run hospitals will launch a partial strike this morning as part of the Israel Medical Association's dispute with the Finance Ministry over wages and work conditions.

The IMA has instructed members to follow a Saturday schedule, whereby only on-call doctors will work at public health facilities. In addition, non-urgent procedures scheduled for today will be canceled, and outpatient clinics will be closed. Doctors will perform emergency surgery with the approval of special advisory committees.

The partial strike will effect all public hospitals, including those specializing in psychiatric and geriatric care.

Doctors will administer in-vitro fertilization and, as per a Health Ministry directive, urgent dialysis, and radiation and chemotherapy treatment will be given as usual. The sanctions will not affect emergency rooms, intensive care units or maternity wards.

Negotiations between the IMA and treasury officials got stuck Thursday, when the state refused to discuss the doctors' demands to raise the number of hospital beds, and asked the IMA to back down on the request for a wage increase.

A meeting slated to be held between the two sides yesterday was canceled, but will be held tomorrow at the Finance Ministry.

The labor dispute, in its sixth week, involves 17,000 doctors.

Tomorrow and Thursday, surgeons will perform only emergency operations or surgery to remove cancerous tumors. Wednesday, doctors will not report to Clalit health maintenance organization family clinics in the Tel Aviv area, Petah Tikva and Haifa.

"Unfortunately, we have not heard anything new from the Finance Ministry regarding a willingness to invest in the public health system," said IMA chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman. "We are dealing with declarations that are vague and unclear."

"The situation on the ground is frustrating," Eidelman added. "The strike is expected to go on for an extended period. Ultimately there will be an agreement, but now there is no doubt that this will be a long struggle."

"We launched this struggle to bring about a significant change in the system," he said. "Until changes are not put into practice, we will not halt our campaign."

IMA officials are wary of the possibility that the strike will seriously impinge on care for hospital patients, a scenario that could turn the tide of public opinion against the doctors.

Last Wednesday, the Knesset Health Committee held a hearing on the sanctions. Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen said that while the state would be open to addressing long-standing grievances regarding pay and work hours, it would not introduce private health services into public hospitals.

The head of the treasury's wage division, Ilan Levine, said that his ministry is offering an 11.7-percent salary hike over five years, or a 19.8-percent hike over eight years. The IMA countered that it seeks a 50-percent raise in the hourly wage, which currently stands at NIS 42, on average.