Parents of children hospitalized at the Pediatric Hemato-Oncology Department of the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem launched a hunger strike on Sunday morning in light of the ongoing crisis at the hospital.
The department treats children in need of a bone marrow transplant. Following the shortage in ward beds, the hospital's director, Professor Zeev Rotstein, decided to transfer and treat some of the children who need a transplant in the adult ward.
Six of the senior doctors at the department tended their resignation in March, saying the decision is fundamentally wrong and does not allow them to provide patients with the best care. Despite talks between the sides, the doctors and the hospital's administration have so far failed to reach an agreement to resolve the crisis.
Rotstein has already begun negotiations to recruit new doctors, meanwhile using the aid of medical teams from Sheba Hospital in Tel Hashomer to help abate their shortage in medical personnel.
According to the parents, the team expected to arrive at the hospital is not sufficiently skilled and has no practical experience in caring for children.
"We're going on a hunger strike to show our gratitude to the wonderful doctors who are treating our children with unending devotion," one of the parents said.
Only three parents have so far announced their intention to strike, but they say others are expected to join them. They will hold their strike at a protest tent they've set up at Sacher Park in Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday morning the crisis has gone on for far too long. "Attempts have been made, also by me, via the Health Minister who has worked tirelessly on the matter, and by others, including the president, to resolve the crisis. These attempts have not succeeded. A motion has been filed with the High Court of Justice, which will convene on Wednesday and we are all awaiting the discussion."
"I request that the sides make a final effort, which will not be simple, to restore the status quo ante – so that these tired and sick children will not continue to suffer," he added.
In a petition file two weeks ago, the parents asked the High Court to order the opening of a new hemato-oncology department at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center, as well as to order the dismissal of Prof. Rotstein from Hadassah and bar his plan to treat children at the adults' ward.
The state gave its response to the petition to the High Court on Sunday, saying the only solution to the crisis is the return of the resigning doctors to Hadassah.
The state has asked the doctors and the parents along with other involved parties to agree to mediation. "The Health Ministry has no intention to prevent the possibility of the doctors being accepted to work at other hospitals. It appears all that is left to overcome the crisis of trust, in a way that allows finding the golden path to a solution, is among others the return of the resigning doctors to their work at the department in Hadassah, or another suitable employment solution the sides would agree on. To that end there is mediation," the state said in its response.
Furthermore, the Health Ministry "believes the circumstances do not lead to the conclusion there is justification to dismiss Prof. Rotstein. Professional and managerial disagreements have always existed in medicine and will always exist."
Shlomo Ben-Dor, whose six-year-old son Nehuniya received treatment in the department, explained the motivation behind the hunger strike: "We're launching a hunger strike because we have completely lost all trust in the health system—the health minister, the Health Ministry's director-general and of course the director of Hadassah, Prof. Rotstein," he said.
"We feel all of these people are not speaking the truth, they are playing politics at our expense and are not really trying to resolve the problem," Ben-Dor went on to say.
"The doctors, whom we hold in such high regard, made this brave step after they were left with no other choice but to resign. They are unable to return to Hadassah because they feel Prof. Rotstein is abusing them. There is no logical reason not to open a department at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center, which embraces the doctors and is willing to treat them humanely and professionally, unlike the treatment they received from the Hadassah director, with the backing of the health minister."
Ben-Dor expressed concern that "in the current situation, Jerusalem will remain without an appropriate place for children with cancer. Furthermore, six doctors, who are top experts in the field, and three other interns, will no longer treat children with cancer. This is an unbearable loss for children with cancer in Israel, as the number of experts in this field in the country amounts to only 40 doctors."
Moshe Benita, whose son Noam passed away from cancer at age 11, also joins the hunger strike. "You might ask me, why should you? After all, you no longer have a child to save," Benita wrote on Facebook. "Everything I've done since my Noam passed away, I've been doing as a mission he has left me. But I'm not alone. Reuma Maron, the late Tamir's mother, is also joining (the hunger strike)."
He went on to add he was striking "because we realize that parents sitting next to their children's beds are not emotionally available to join this fight. We're striking so the sick children of Jerusalem would have an appropriate solution in Israel's capital."