Israeli Medical Residents Postpone Walkouts in Compromise With Health Ministry

According to last-minute deal, residents, ministry officials will use 48-hour postponement to hold intensive talks to end public health system crisis.

With Tuesday's deadline looming on many of the letters of resignation by medical residents around the country, the sides Monday agreed to defer the first of the resignations until Thursday to provide additional time to work out a compromise. National Labor Court President Nili Arad initially proposed a compromise in which the residents would suspend their announced departures for 10 days and a mediation process would be set up through the court to head off the major disruption in medical services.

Although the Israel Medical Association struck an agreement in August with the Finance Ministry on a labor pact for the next nine years, many residents remained dissatisfied. After an earlier attempt by residents to resign en masse was deemed an illegal collective labor action by the courts, over 700 of them submitted individual letters of resignation that were due to take effect this month, mostly this week. An agreement in principle was reached yesterday between the prosecutor's office, which represents the finance and health ministries, and the Israel Medical Association on an approach to resolve the dispute.

medical resident, medical residents, doctors strike
Ofer Vaknin

Late yesterday evening, the residents' group agreed to defer action for two days. Confusion reigned among some medical residents whose resignation was due to take effect as to whether they would show up for work. The residents, who are represented by their own organization, Mirsham, had expressed concern that their consent could be construed as admission that their resignations constituted prohibited collective action.

With the prospect still present of the walkout of large numbers of residents, some time this week, hospitals around the country have developed emergency plans to deal with the possible staff shortages.

The National Labor Court's involvement follows a request yesterday by the Tel Aviv district prosecutor's office for a restraining order against the resignations, or requiring that any resignations take effect at staggered intervals in hospital departments where more than half of the residents are resigning.

Seven hundred residents have submitted letters that they would quit their jobs. If they ultimately go through with the threat, major disruptions would be expected at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, Meir Hospital, Beilinson Hospital, Assaf Harofeh Hospital, Wolfson Medical Center, Rambam Medical Center and Bnei Zion Medical Center.

The Clalit HMO, which owns eight hospitals, has chosen not to join the prosecutor's office in its request, raising the prospect that services at its hospitals might not be bound by any restraining order that could be issued. The hospitals include Meir, Beilinson and Schneider Children's Medical Center.

They also include Shalvata Mental Health Center, Carmel Medical Center, Soroka Medical Center, Kaplan Hospital and Haemek Hospital, but the numbers of threatened resignations at the five latter hospitals are smaller than at Meir, Beilinson and Schneider.

Clalit issued a statement saying it did not believe that its doctors should be forced to work. The Hadassah medical organization has also chosen not to be a party to the prosecutor's request.