Specialists Replace Medical Residents at Hospitals Across Israel

State asks court to issue sweeping injunction against resident's resignation, court expected to reject request; no agreement reached overnight Monday, further meeting scheduled Tuesday.

Israel's health system was struck with one of its worst crises ever on Monday, when at least 355 medical residents put their resignations into effect and did not show up for work. The number of no-shows is expected to reach at least 558 on Tuesday.

A hearing that extended into the night was being held in the National Labor Court on the state's request for an injunction against the resignations. No decision was reached in the meeting overnight Monday, and a further meeting was scheduled for Tuesday.

Dr. Moshe Salai - Nir Kafri - 11102011
Nir Kafri

The state had asked the court to issue a sweeping injunction, but the court was expected to reject that request. In such an event, the state was expected to ask for a partial injunction, which observers say would more than likely be accepted.

Testifying at Monday's hearing, hospital directors said they could not continue to run the hospitals under the developing circumstances. There were many reports on Monday of operations that were postponed in hospitals where residents had not shown up, among them non-urgent operations for cancer patients.

At the same time, the Health and Justice ministries were debating whether to issue their own restraining orders against at least some of the residents, in an effort to stabilize the overburdened hospitals.

Earlier on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made another offer to the residents that involved giving doctors who were willing to expand the scope of their hospital work a salary increase of several thousand shekels a month.

This offer was coordinated with the treasury, after the treasury's wages director, Ilan Levin, made it clear that he would not give the residents any more money unless they agreed to more work, and that he might even resign if Netanyahu capitulated to the residents' demands.

The residents are asking that the time frame of the agreement that had been signed on their behalf by the Israel Medical Association be shortened from nine years to four. If the state did not agree to reopen the agreement, they said, they would demand substantial salary increments to stop the resignation process.

A previous proposal by Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman to offer positions paying more to doctors who would agree to work solely in the public health system was rejected at the time by the residents.

The effect of dozens of doctors not showing up for work was felt immediately on Monday morning in the country's large hospitals. At Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, it was decided not to accept any laboring women who were not expected to give birth immediately, referring them instead to other Haifa hospitals. Similarly, at Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava, non-urgent births were referred to Hillel Yaffe Hospital, Laniado and Ma'ayanei Hayeshua Hospital.

At a press conference at the offices of the attorneys representing the residents, senior doctors from the Hospital Doctors Organization (Arbel ) said they would not attempt to replace the absent residents and would perform only emergency procedures.

"The rupture in the health system has begun; it is now being felt by the medical residents, but will soon be felt by the entire public," said Prof. Eran Dolev, chairman of Arbel. "This is a promo for a mass casualty event in the public health system. I wouldn't want to live in a country in which the public health system was not accessible to anyone who needs it."

Eran called on the prime minister to take the situation in hand and resolve it, "because our lives depend on it."