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Doctors demand staff for deferred treatments, long COVID

Doctors strike Monday, say government neglecting health now that COVID is beaten

‘Physicians are angry, we’re very angry,’ says union deputy chairman, discussing fears that 600 doctors recruited during pandemic could soon be fired

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Illustrative image: medical interns demonstrate for better work conditions at Habima Square in Tel Aviv, on December 21, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Illustrative image: medical interns demonstrate for better work conditions at Habima Square in Tel Aviv, on December 21, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Doctors in Israel are going on strike Monday, claiming that they kept the nation going through the pandemic and are now being “tossed aside.”

The Israel Medical Association called the 24-hour strike along with several protests starting Monday at 7 a.m., over fears that 600 doctors employed during the pandemic will lose their jobs in just under two months because funding won’t be renewed.

Hospitals will be forced to fire them on June 30 unless the additional money is found, which is currently not a goal for the government.

“Physicians are angry, we are very angry,” said Dr. Zeev Feldman, one of the strike’s initiators, saying that the state risks delivering a blow to the health system just as it is facing up to the challenge of providing service to the many who delayed healthcare during the COVID-19 crisis.

“If there’s a lesson to learn from the pandemic it’s the need to look after our health system, and that we need to strengthen the system, not weaken it as it seems could well happen,” Feldman said.

Hospital team members work at the Coronavirus ward of the Ziv medical center in the northern Israeli city of Safed, on December 17, 2020 (David Cohen/Flash90)

Feldman, deputy director of the Israel Medical Association (IMA), said that doctors feel like they were used during the pandemic and are now being “tossed aside.” He said the government has a responsibility to give guarantees now on staffing after June in order for the health system to run stably now.

The Finance Ministry declined a request for comment.

Dr. Zeev Feldman, deputy chairman of the Israel Medical Association. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“After more than a year of people avoiding hospitals for fear of getting infected, they are now coming to hospitals for all sorts of reasons that were overlooked during the crisis,” Feldman told The Times of Israel.

“In view of this, it’s clear that without 600 doctors who are central to treating patients, the quality of care will suffer. We won’t allow this.”

During the strike, almost all hospitals will run on a weekend schedule and non-urgent procedures will be canceled. Some community clinics, but not all, are expected to strike in solidarity.

Hospital emergency rooms will run as normal, as will other essential services, like dialysis and oncology, the IMA said. Union doctors will decide whether to carry out operations such as IVF procedures on a case-by-case basis.

The government added funding for the 600 doctors in question in the thick of the pandemic, and employed them in addition to approximately 9,000 other hospital doctors. If their posts are to continue beyond June 30, the Finance Ministry needs to guarantee that funding will continue, but it is not doing so.

Nadav Davidovich (BGU)

According to Prof. Nadav Davidovich, senior official in the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, a medical union that is supporting the strike, “the government, and especially the Finance Ministry, completely misreads and misunderstands the situation.”

He said the government takes the effectiveness of the health system for granted, assuming the fact that hospitals weathered COVID-19 crisis means it is now safe to scale back funding.

Instead, Davidovich argued, with a better-funded health system Israel could have been more confident entering the pandemic. Plus, he added, doctors will still be dealing with effects of the pandemic, including deferred treatment and long-COVID cases, for months or years.

“After the state cheered the physicians and gave them lots of praise during the crisis, it’s quite clear that things are returning to the old situation where health isn’t a priority and all emphasis in funding goes to security,” said Davidovich. “This should not be allowed to happen.”

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