The resignation of nine doctors in the Pediatric Hemato-Oncological Department in Hadassah University Medical Center took effect on Saturday.
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The departure of the doctors, including former department director Prof. Mickey Weintraub, five additional senior doctors and three interns, is being accompanied by an intensification of protest moves by the parents of the children being treated in the department. On Friday night they set up a protest tent in Jerusalem’s Gan Sacher, which they are dubbing “a field hospital for children with cancer.”
The protest tent includes 20 beds, treatment and examination rooms and a reception desk. According to plans, some of the doctors who have left will come to the temporary hospital and examine patients, but despite the number of beds and the medical equipment, the activity is a protest and is not meant to replace medical care for cancer patients. Accordingly, the tent is not designed for hospitalization, chemotherapy or other treatments. Activity in the tent is expected to begin on Sunday and, according to the parents’ declaration, will “continue 24/7 until the High Court of Justice decides on the establishment of a department in the Shaare Zedek Medical Center.”
The Health Ministry addressed the construction of the tent and said that “according to [the national health] law, an oncology clinic needs a license in order to guarantee the safety of the medical treatment of patients. Providing treatment in the field, in a tent, is liable to endanger the children, expose them to infections and allergens and endanger their welfare and their health. This is not the accepted medical practice and does not meet Health Ministry requirements.”
According to the ministry, “Medically speaking it’s preferable for the children to receive treatment in a hospital. In Hadassah there’s a department with over 40 staff members and five additional doctors to provide treatment at all times, for every child, under the required conditions.” The ministry also said they are calling on the resigning doctors to return to Hadassah and to treat the children there.
The conflict between the department doctors, headed by Weintraub, and the director general of the hospital, Zeev Rothstein, began a few months ago. The doctors claimed that the director had made several decisions, without consulting them, that adversely affect the quality of care in the department. Among other things, Dr. Pauline Stepansky, who served as the director of the unit for pediatric bone marrow transplants in the department and was subordinate to Weintraub, was appointed director of the department for adult bone marrow transplants.
According to the doctors, at the same time that she was appointed, bone marrow transplants for children were transferred to the adult department, which is located in another building, and in physical and professional surroundings that they claim are not suitable for pediatric transplants and treatments.
With the resignation of the doctors, Hadassah hospital is continuing its activity in the Pediatric Hemato-Oncological Department in the hospital with a new team of doctors. Dr. Gal Goldstein assumed the position of department director a few weeks ago, Prof. Yossi Lieber arrived from the United States, and over the weekend Stepansky, who also serves as the director of the Department of Bone Marrow Transplantation for adults, already visited the department. Also caring for the children are two additional doctors from the Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, as part of a temporary assistance program, until permanent staff starts to work in the department. A source in the department said that activity in the department continues as usual and the new staff continues to take good care of the children.
The department in its new format has been harshly criticized by the children’s parents and by the departing doctors, who claim that this is mainly a show and not a real solution. “I’m already beyond despair,” said Dr. Iris Fried, a specialist who resigned. “What’s happening here is insane, a costume ball. They brought in doctors, most of whom are not relevant for the patients, and some have come for a short period. The patients and the families are frightened by the chaos and by the number of people who came to be photographed, and security people have been posted at the entrance to the department. I get phone calls from patients who got stuck there and don’t understand what’s happening,” she said.
The parents’ goal is to get Health Ministry approval for an identical department at Shaare Zedek, where doctors who left will continue to treat their children. Last week the parents petitioned the High Court through attorney Eliad Shraga, chairman of the Movement for Quality Government in Israel. The parents’ campaign is intensifying, led by a PR agency that is accompanying it and following an aggressive policy. Rothstein and the Hadassah administration are also using an external media adviser.