Doctors Take Dispute to J'lem Streets; Sanctions to Increase Next Week

Next week the doctors are expected to announce a new series of work sanctions in the public health system. No breakthrough has been forthcoming in the negotiations.

Nearly 3,000 physicians and medical students demonstrated opposite the Knesset yesterday following a string of recent labor sanctions by the country's doctors.

The demonstrators urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to intervene in negotiations over their demands. Representatives of the Israel Medical Association and the Finance Ministry are expected to meet today in an effort to resolve the dispute.

Netanyahu has been receiving updates on negotiations but has refrained from intervening directly up until now. Next week the doctors are expected to announce a new series of work sanctions in the public health system. No breakthrough has been forthcoming in the negotiations.

Yesterday's protest in Jerusalem was the largest by the country's physicians in the past decade. IMA chairman Leonid Eidelman told the crowd that their fight could become drawn out and difficult. "We should remember that we all have the common goal of advancing and improving the medical services provided to the residents of the country," he said.

Opposition politicians at the rally added their support to the call for intervention by the prime minister. Opposition leader Tzipi Livni of Kadima said the physicians' fight was for the "future of public medicine in the State of Israel." She said it was the right of the country's citizens to receive proper medical care that will extend life. "It is the prime minister's job, once and for all, to do what he would gladly do if it involved extending the life of his government," she added.

Kadima MK Rachel Adatto, who herself is a physician, said a demonstration of yesterday's magnitude should not have been necessary. MK Aryeh Eldad of the National Union told the demonstrators they were fighting for fair work conditions "for the sake of the health of Israeli society." MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al ), who is also a physician, said: "At the treasury, they want the health system to undergo a breeched birth, and everything should be done to make it a strong and normal birth that is head-first." Dalia Itzik of Kadima said: "There is a tendency to think politicians are exploiting the crisis, but every one of us needs doctors on a daily basis." She urged Netanyahu to take action.

Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen (Shas ) said in response that the physicians' strike and the labor sanctions are "not moral,"adding: "The time has come for the heads of the Israel Medical Association to speak the truth and stop deluding the public, the [medical] students and the medical residents and to present the real demands they are raising in negotiations - an across-the-board wage increase that mainly serves the senior physicians. It's a pity that the doctors are using the real problems in the medical system to get a pay raise for senior physicians and are objecting to the proposal by the Finance Ministry to provide an increase of more than half a billion shekels to solve the important problems. Unfortunately this situation is blocking substantial progress in the negotiations. It is only if the heads of the Israel Medical Association drop their demand for an across-the-board wage increase and agree to punch a time clock that it will be possible to compensate those who work more and deal with the important issues such as [medical care in] outlying areas, medical residents, and the manpower shortage in specialties."

There were temporary disruptions in the provision of medical care around the country during the demonstration. Some surgery and other non-urgent treatment was postponed and some outpatient clinics closed. Staff at some hospitals was also reduced. A delegation of 60 doctors from Rebecca Sieff Hospital in Safed alone came to Jerusalem to demonstrate.