Israeli Doctors' Strike Escalates as Residents Begin Hunger Strike

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly urged to intervene and bring about a breakthrough in the talks between the doctors and the Finance Ministry.

Resident doctors hospitalized themselves in Kfar Sava's Meir Hospital Thursday, as part of a protest, despite that the National Labor Court had issued an injunction forcing them back to work. As a result, the hospital's director decided to close down the emergency ward. Ten more residents have declared a hunger strike.

Resident representatives were invited to meet with the head of the Israel Medical Association, which is trying to calm things down ahead of a meeting with the Finance Ministry Thursday evening or Friday morning. The doctors have been on strike for 16 weeks.

Doctor's strike in Ramat Gan - Nir Kafri - July 2011
Nir Kafri

Twists and turns in the negotiations were reported throughout Wednesday. The gap between the parties is estimated at NIS 125 million per year for an eight-year period, while the overall cost of the agreement is already estimated at over NIS 1 billion. Calls increased yesterday for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to intervene and bring about a breakthrough in the talks.

The current draft agreement, distributed yesterday to physicians across the country for consultation, would see a pay rise of 19.8 to 20.4 percent per hour per physician, a 23.25 percent pay rise for physicians in the periphery, and an NIS 1,200 pay rise for medical fields in particular distress, including internal medicine, surgery, rehabilitative medicine, geriatrics, emergency medicine, pathology and pediatric psychiatry. Sixteen percent of the pay rise physicians received in the last agreement with the treasury, 11 years ago, will be relocated to their basic salaries.

Over all, the total pay rise will come up to 47 percent in eight to 10 years' time. The agreement also sees the work week shortened to five days - or 40 hours, with Friday recognized as a holiday on which private practice will be allowed. The physicians, for their part, agree to stamp time clock cards with GPS satellite technology, with the details of their exact whereabouts to be made available to employers only if there is an inquiry.

The draft was met Tuesday with an unprecedented, spontaneous walk-out protest by medical residents, who abandoned hospitals throughout the country to rally against the agreement. Hundreds of physicians walked out from the hospitals of Meir, Rambam, Ichilov, Kaplan, Beilinson and Shalvata. The protest began at Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava, with residents expressing anger at a clause in the agreement suggesting the addition of 650 new medical positions over three years, a number the residents said fell far below their estimate of the necessary and urgent minimum of a thousand positions now.