‘Nothing to lose’: 200 medical residents resign in protest of 26-hour shifts

2-year dispute was reignited after government delayed plans to shorten shifts; more residents threaten to join mass exodus every week; health minister blames Treasury

Dr. Rey Biton (second from right), head of the Mirsham organization of medical residents, holds a press conference at Assuta Medical Center in Ashdod, August 1, 2022. (Flash90)
Dr. Rey Biton (second from right), head of the Mirsham organization of medical residents, holds a press conference at Assuta Medical Center in Ashdod, August 1, 2022. (Flash90)

Two hundred medical residents submitted their letters of resignation at 2 p.m. Thursday due to a long-running dispute with the Health Ministry over lengthy prolonged shift hours.

The Mirsham organization, which represents medical residents in Israel, said in a press conference that some 200 are submitting letters now, as a first stage, with many more coming if the crisis is not solved. Mirsham had given the Health Ministry a 2 p.m. ultimatum to meet its demands.

“Every week on Thursday at 2 p.m. further resignation letters will be filed in similar numbers,” said Dr. Rey Biton, head of Mirsham, addressing the government. “We very very much hope that before those letters take effect in some two weeks, you will wake up.”

“We are not afraid. We have nothing to lose,” she said.

While the government had originally agreed to shorten shifts by April this year, a July announcement said that the change would be pushed off until September 2023, angering the residents, citing procedural problems caused by the upcoming elections.

“The resignation letters being submitted right now with an aching heart and trembling hand are an indictment” against the government for failing to live up to its promises to end 26-hour shifts, Biton charged.

“You are leading to the worst health crisis in Israel’s history,” she added. “The government is not taking responsibility, only hiding behind the elections as though such an excuse can keep the disgrace away.”

Biton said the government “has decided to forsake” doctors and patients.

“We can no longer bear the injustice, pay the price and hurt our health and that of our patients,” she said.

Dr. Rey Biton, head of the Mirsham organization of medical residents, holds a press conference on August 25, 2022. (screenshot)

Trainee doctors are currently required to work 26-hour shifts, but have been lobbying for that to be decreased to 16-18 hours, claiming that their inability to concentrate for such an extended period of time without rest endangers both the medical professionals and patients.

According to a report in the Ynet news outlet, in addition to the 200 residents who handed in their resignations Thursday, a further 300 residents also signed letters of resignation and are threatening to hand them in if the Health Ministry doesn’t shorten the shifts.

The resignations only take effect two weeks after the letter has been handed to an employer, giving the Health Ministry a further 14 days to try and prevent the mass exodus of trainee doctors.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz backed the protesting residents on Wednesday and placed the blame squarely on the Finance Ministry, saying “the Health Ministry supports the shortening of shifts” and insisting that the “budget is in place” to do so.

Horowitz said the Finance Ministry “went back on its obligations… and thwarted the implementation of the process.”

“I’d like to see Finance Ministry employees working for 26 hours straight,” he scoffed.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz gives a press conference at Soroka Medical Center in the southern city of Beersheba, on November 30, 2021. (Flash90)

Last October, thousands of residents resigned in protest of the 26-hour shifts they are expected to work. The government then proposed a plan under which the shifts at 10 hospitals in outlying areas, outside the center of the country, would be shortened to 16-18 hours. It was to begin on April 1.

But after the government announced the postponement of any changes to shifts until next year, Mirsham said in a statement that Economy Minister Orna Barbivai had “given in” to pressure and that the delay was a “death sentence” to reducing the shifts.

Medical residents demonstrate for better working conditions in Tel Aviv, on July 30, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Until 2000, residents worked 36-hour shifts and sometimes more. That year, an agreement was signed to reduce the shifts to 26 hours with a two-hour break.

In 2012, following appeals to reduce the hours again, the government limited residents to two shifts a week, and said they could not work more than 71.5 hours in a week.

Despite the new regulations, most hospitals have not implemented them.

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