Israel Reaches 'Historic' Deal to Cut Hours for Medical Residents

Hundreds of residents and interns withdraw their letters of resignation ■ Agreement will gradually implement 18-hour shifts instead of 26-hour ones starting in April

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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Leaders of medical interns protest submit letters of resignation prior to signing historic deal
Leaders of medical interns protest submit letters of resignation prior to signing historic deal Credit: Hadas Parush
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Israel's association of hospital residents and interns announced Wednesday that it had reached an understanding with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz over shortening work shifts.

Under the revised plan, the first round of shorter shifts of 18 hours will go into effect in hospitals in the country’s periphery in April. On November 30, 2022, they will be expanded to include internal medicine and urgent care departments at two hospitals in the center of the country, which will be named later.

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On March 31, 2023, 18-hour shifts will be expanded to internal medicine and urgent care wards all over Israel. On November 30, 2023, a further expansion of the shorter-shifts program will begin, although details of that phase have not yet been finalized. Under the terms of the agreement the entire program will have been implemented by the the end of 2025.

With the understanding in place, hundreds of residents and interns on Wednesday withdrew the letters of resignation they had submitted in protest against a previous government plan on shifts that they said was inadequate.

“I’m excited. Today, we’re putting an end to 26-hour-long shifts,” Rey Biton, chairwoman of the association of hospital residents and interns, told reporters outside the Health Ministry’s Jerusalem offices. She termed the agreements “a historic change that will affect thousands of residents and interns and hundreds of thousands of patients.”

Horowitz wrote on Twitter at the end of the meeting with Biton that the “revolution of shorter work shifts is about to begin.” He said that “with a big increase in the budget, the addition of thousands of new students in nursing and medicine and shorter shifts for residents, oxygen is finally flowing into the health care system.”

Biton said the residents had verified that Horowitz’s promises would be put into action.

“Now that we’ve made sure that everything is properly anchored [in an agreement], that we’re not just dealing in declarations and that we’ve gotten the guarantees we demanded, we can stand here today and say that the news is good and that it’s real,” she said.

Residents have been fighting for years to have the length of their shifts reduced. Yet in spite of their determination to fight, until now they were unable to bring about a major change in their work conditions. During their struggle they failed to get public backing from senior medical staff.

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