Medical professionals on Monday staged a nationwide "warning strike" over what they say are unfair working conditions as well as government plans to lay off hundreds of doctors currently employed in coronavirus wards.
The strike comes amid Finance Ministry's plans to fire 600 professionals hired during the coronavirus crisis to reinforce the hospitals' dedicated COVID wards.
As part of the strike, some 300 intern doctors and medical students briefly blocked the Azrieli Junction in Tel Aviv to traffic earlier. They also protested having to work extraordinary long shifts during their training, which they want to be shortened.
During the strike, most of the wards in the hospitals will operate in an emergency format, including emergency rooms. Surgeries will be performed only after their approval by a special committee at each hospital, while ambulance services in medical centers and outpatient clinics are expected to be suspended.
Some HMO branches will also be closed during the strike. Gastrointestinal centers, fetal ultrasound services, treatments for oncology patients and IVF treatments will all operate as usual out of necessity.
Despite the expected disruptions, compliance with the strike’s instructions may vary between each hospital and health fund. The Maccabi HMO, for example, announced that its clinics will “operate as usual, including all doctors and physicians."
Prof. Zion Hagay, chairman of the Israel Medical Association said the Finance Ministry's plans are a direct risk to the health of the Israeli public. "We are here to protest the Finance Ministry’s forceful behavior and intention to fire 600 doctors who worked in coronavirus wards,” he said.
“The Israeli health system has been left to starve for decades… Today we are fighting to make the health system stronger and sturdier,” added Hagay.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein expressed his support for the strike.
"My heart goes out to them, their demands are justified. The Finance Ministry and the government are both committed not only not to fire the medical staff recruited during the coronavirus crisis, but to add more," said Edelstein. "Our response should be to increase budgets, not to cut them."
The Finance Ministry said in response: "In order to help the government deal with the outbreak of coronavirus, the government and the Knesset have decided to increase the government expenditure specifically for the purpose of dealing with the pathogen," said the statement.
“As part of the aid given, the health and finance ministers agreed in July 2020 on additional funding for more staff to man the hospitals’ dedicated coronavirus wards, of which only 10% remain active today.
“As usual, with the formation of a new government and as part of the budget talks, there will also be a discussion regarding permanent reinforcement of the health system.”