Israeli Hospital Doctors on Strike After Talks With Treasury Break Down

'This strike is redundant, will do little to help public,' health minister says, but doctors vow not to give up demands.

Laniando Hospital in Netanya.
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Israel's hospital doctors are due to strike from Thursday morning, after talks between doctors’ representatives and the Finance Ministry officials broke down overnight.

The strike had been called to continue until at least Saturday evening and will affect all government-run hospitals and psychiatric and geriatric facilities. During the strike, hospitals will operate in a limited capacity, like they do on Shabbat, only providing emergency care and deffering all non-urgent surgery and treatment.

Doctors stressed they would take additional measures if their demands weren’t met by the end of the weekend.

 Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, in October 2015.
Michal Fattal

"This strike is redundant," Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said, "it has no real cause and it will bring little benefit to the public and health system." He added that talks were still ongoing between his ministry and finance officials to reach a compromise that would "strengthen public healthcare in Israel, [by] adding beds, manpower and resources." He said the doctors were concerned not by budgetary issues, but by a new clause which imposes restrictions on hospital department heads taking on private clients.

The doctors, however, are demanding that the 2017-2018 budget, which Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon will present to the cabinet on Thursday, include 1-2 billion shekel more for hospital beds, more doctors and additional manpower in other positions.

Doctors’ union representatives met with Finance Ministry officials late into the night on Wednesday. Though at first talks were said to be going well, they collapsed after the doctors received a letter from Yossi Cohen, the head of the treasury's pay division, which refused to commit any of their agreements to writing and whose wording was vague. The representatives said they had hoped to see a draft on the updated version of the health budget reflecting promises the treasury had made. "We didn't get any clear answers," senior union official Lea Wapner said.

The public apparently has mixed feelings about Thursday’s strike. The budgetary crisis in the country’s hospitals has been around for years and it is not clear why it has come to a head now.

The doctors did not make any particular noise during the last round of budget discussions. It appears that the trigger, at least according to the labor dispute announcement issued by the union, was the treasury’s intention of canceling the right of senior doctors (department heads) to engage in private practice in parallel to their hospital work.

But that section has been deleted from the budget law. As of now, the doctors’ struggle appears to be a more generalized one.