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Public health doctors resigning en masse in Israel

From Michael Schwartz, CNN
updated 1:32 PM EDT, Tue October 11, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Resident doctors say they're not getting enough pay
  • The government is trying to get an injunction against the doctors
  • Some patients are waiting 3 days in ER to get to ward, an official says

Jerusalem (CNN) -- The crisis in Israel's health system entered its second day Tuesday, as scores more resident doctors resigned from public hospitals across the country over a pay dispute.

The Ministry of Health issued a list of 10 hospitals that are operating without the services of 452 residents.

Especially hard hit is the Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv, which has lost 105 of its 300 resident doctors.

Dr. Gil Fire, the center's deputy director, described the conditions as very difficult. Physicians, experts, senior physicians and heads of departments are now working the 24-hour shifts assigned to residents.

"I don't think that it can last more than a few days more before we have a really bad situation. It cannot last for long. It's like a feeling of war that everyone is doing shifts of 28, 36 hours. Top physicians. But they won't do it for long," Fire warned.

"My message to the government is: there is no situation that our system will be able to operate without the physicians that are protesting now. We must bring them back and we should bring them back in a way that they want to work here. Not doing steps with the court but by negotiating with them about what they need and finding solutions," he said.

David Ratner, the spokesman for Rambam Hospital in Haifa, said "operations are being postponed. Specialist doctors are doing the work of the residents and therefore there are only emergency operations taking place in the hospital."

At least 130 of the 220 resident doctors at the facility -- the main hospital in northern Israel -- have resigned, and others are not showing up for work, Ratner said.

Hospital staff are directing non-emergency cases to other hospitals, and ambulances are being instructed to take patients to other facilities, he added.

"In American terms, the hospital could be called 'crippled' but not 'disabled.' It continues running, but it is the public that is feeling the brunt of the pain," Ratner said. "There are some people who are lying in the (emergency room) for three days before they are moved to the departments."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the residents to show responsibility and return to the hospitals.

"Last night, I proposed that the residents receive an increase of thousands of shekels in their monthly wage in return for their services in public health, from the moment they become young doctors," Netanyahu said. "This generous offer will significantly improve their conditions of employment and will contribute to the citizens who are hospitalized in the public health system."

Dr. Ofer Zimmerman, a former resident who is leading the protest, does not believe the offer will end the crisis.

"It is not sufficient. It is too little money for more work. The increase does not go to the residents but to doctors. As it is, the doctors receive a low salary. All that will happen is that they will have to work even harder to make more money," he charged.

The residents say they're not making enough money for the hours they work, and they're also upset that a government promise to add more residents to the public health system in 2009 was never fulfilled.

Zimmerman has completed a 5-year residency in internal medicine at the Sourasky Medical Center and is in the middle of a 2-year residency specializing in infectious diseases. He contends that the prime minister does not want to solve the real problem, which he says is the amount of total government investment in the public health sector. According to Zimmerman, Israel invests 7.7% of its GDP in the public health sector and this is one of the lowest amounts in the scales set by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Zimmerman contends Netanyahu's proposal would only add half a percent to this amount.

The government is also fighting the residents' action in the Labour Court, where the state is attempting to get an injunction against the resignations. Hospital authorities are calling on both sides to come up with a solution as soon as possible and alleviate the suffering of the patients in the hospitals.

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