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2,600 interns quit en masse on Thursday

Hundreds of medical interns rally in Tel Aviv amid fight over workload

TV report says Health Ministry moving forward on plan to shorten shifts, despite interns rejecting the proposal as insufficient

Medical interns demonstrate for better work conditions in Tel Aviv, October 9, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Medical interns demonstrate for better work conditions in Tel Aviv, October 9, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Hundreds of medical interns and supporters protested in Tel Aviv Saturday night as part of their campaign to shorten 26-hour-long shifts, two days after nearly 2,600 interns quit en masse over the long-contested matter.

“We deserve to learn during our internship,” one protester told Channel 12. “You can’t learn on an internship in which you don’t sleep for 10 shifts a month, or even eight shifts.”

Medical interns have been protesting over the 26-hour shifts they are forced to work, and have rejected a government proposal to gradually reduce shifts to 18 hours by 2026 — but only in 10 hospitals in outlying areas.

Dr. Ray Bitton, head of the Mirsham organization of medical interns, said the Health Ministry’s plan to reform internship schedules, announced Thursday, was a sham.

“We were lied to, deceived. We were promised a real plan… there is no plan,” she said, arguing the ministry’s proposal ignored 90 percent of interns and consisted of “claims that may sound good but have no commitments behind them.”

According to Kan news, an attempt by ministry officials to call in protest representatives for a meeting during the rally was rejected, with the demonstrators saying they would meet with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and no one else.

Meanwhile Channel 13 reported that the Health Ministry will move forward with its announced plan to shorten interns’ shifts, despite the protesting interns rejecting it this week.

Channel 13 said the ministry will work with the Finance Ministry on a budgetary agreement to fund the plan, hoping that making the promise more concrete will help cajole the interns into backing down from their resignations.

Bitton told Kan on Thursday: “There is no layout, but a plan for 2022 and then vague promises for five years without a budget promise, so every year we will have to fight again. If we want real change we need a serious and orderly proposal.”

Many interns have said the promises made in the plan are not enough, regardless of whether the government follows through.

Medical interns demonstrate for better work conditions in Tel Aviv, October 9, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Channel 13 said that Health Ministry officials would attempt to hold talks with Mirsham representatives, to try and get them to take back their resignation papers before they take effect.

The 2,590 doctors-in-training signed off on resignation papers on Thursday, which would only go into effect in two weeks.

Dr. Ray Bitton, head of the Mirsham organization of medical interns, on January 21, 2021. (Screenshot/Globes)

The government had promised that after the pilot program in the 10 outlying hospitals, the plan would expand to all hospitals, but only if the necessary budget could be found and if a committee set up to examine the issue finds there has been no deterioration in the level of medical care.

“The plan is the start of an important and significant path,” Health Minister Director-General Nachman Ash told Kan, vowing to implement a proposal to eventually shorten the workday to 18-hour shifts.

Health Minister Director-General Nachman Ash attends a press conference about the coronavirus, in Jerusalem, on August 29, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“It will take a few years so that we do not fail in this path. Unfortunately, the interns still do not accept that. I understand there were greater expectations, and believe that we will sit down later and reach agreements,” he added.

Up until the year 2000, interns worked 36-hour shifts and sometimes even more. That year, an agreement was signed to reduce the shifts down to 26 hours, with a two-hour break.

In 2012, following appeals to reduce the hours again, the government adjusted the irregular work permit to limit interns to two shifts a week, and for them to not work more than 71.5 hours in a week.

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

According to a 2016 poll published in The Marker, 72% of interns worked more than 26 hours in a row at least once a month, 42% didn’t sleep during their shift, and 27% worked more than 71.5 hours a week.

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