Israeli Doctors to Strike at Government Hospitals on Wednesday

They say it’s for patients’ sake, but critics say it's for the doctors' wallets.

Israeli doctors during a strike in 2011.
Alon Ron

Doctors will be staging a one-day strike at all government hospitals Wednesday. The strike will encompass general hospitals, while geriatric and psychiatric hospitals will be on Sabbath footing, meaning that all non-urgent procedures will be postponed.

The physicians want the section of the Economic Arrangements Law on health to be canceled, as they believe it will impose new hardships on an already under-staffed and underfunded healthcare system.

On Tuesday night, the doctors were to have met with representatives of the Finance Ministry.

On Sunday, which is the fast day of Tisha B’Av, the doctors are to work normally, but they have made clear that this could be only the beginning of a prolonged labor action.

The Israel Medical Association called a press conference Tuesday to officially announce the beginning of their labor action, calling on Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to “stop interfering with our care of patients.”

“This struggle is not over physicians’ wages. Our salaries are assured as part of the 2011 collective wage agreement. This is a struggle for resources for the public healthcare system,” IMA chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman said, adding that doctors were demanding more positions, beds and shorter waiting times in appointments for procedures. “We want to take better care of patients but we are not given the tools,” he said.

Didn't protest funding problems before

However, funding problems have existed for several years now and the doctors did not protest the last Economic Arrangements Law. The trigger for the strike this time, at least according to the announcement of the labor dispute 10 days ago, is the treasury’s intention to cancel the right of senior physicians – department and unit heads – to maintain a private practice. But that particular edict has been taken out of the Economic Arrangements Law, and the struggle is now focusing on more general goals.

The collective wage agreement between the doctors and the state prohibits them from striking until 2019. However, they claim that the state has breached the agreement, which means they can strike.

The treasury’s underfunding of the system is the reason private practice has come into existence, and the reason for gaps in health service between the center and outlying regions, said Dr. Nimrod Rahamimov, chairman of an organization of physicians who work for the state. This year, Rahamimov said, “There is a surplus of 4 billion shekels and nothing has come to the public healthcare system.” Rahamimov has also criticized the Health Ministry, which has not come out publicly in support of the strike.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said, “I don’t know what all the fuss is about. I have made clear that I don’t intend to make legislation about department heads not being able to [work privately], so I don’t know what they want.”

Not all doctors support the strike. Residents, who are waging their own struggle to shorten their shifts, and have been out of touch with the IMA leadership for the past few weeks, told Haaretz the IMA was using them to fight a battle for department heads’ private practice, instead of looking after the interests of all physicians and the public healthcare system.