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Hundreds of medical interns resign as health minister floats shift compromise

Nitzan Horowitz offers to accelerate plans to shorten shifts from 26 to 18 hours

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz speaks during a press conference at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, October 18, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz speaks during a press conference at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, October 18, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz on Monday offered to accelerate plans to shorten shifts for medical interns, who have threatened to resign en masse to protest their working conditions.

His announcement came as hundreds followed through on that threat, serving resignation letters across 35 medical institutions around the country.

Under the new proposal announced by Horowitz, shifts will be shortened in March from 26 to 18 hours at 10 hospitals in outlying areas. Shifts will then be cut at numerous departments at two yet-to-be determined hospitals in the center of the country in November 2022.

Shifts will then be gradually cut at other departments and hospitals, with the aim of having all medical interns work 18-hour shifts by the end of 2025.

The medical interns rejected a previous government proposal to gradually shorten the shifts by 2026, but only at the 10 hospitals in the so-called periphery with vague statements on the rest of the country following later on. The new proposal was a more detailed one, with clearer goals for the entire country.

“All Israeli governments chose to ignore this problem until this government,” Horowitz said during a press conference at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.

He added that he hoped there would not be any resignations in the end.

“We understand the interns and the pressure, we understand the distress,” Horowitz said. “I hope this will put an end to the crisis.”

The head of Mirsham, a group representing interns that has spearheaded the protests calling for shortened shifts, signaled that the organization backed the new proposal, but wanted further details on its implementation.

“There is good news here,” Dr. Rey Bitton told Channel 12 news.

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Posted by ‎מרשם – ארגון המתמחים לרפואה בישראל‎ on Monday, October 18, 2021

On October 7, over 2,500 medical interns announced their intention to resign to the Health Ministry in protest of their workload, raising fears the drain on manpower would impact healthcare in hospitals.

Until 2000, interns worked 36-hour shifts and sometimes even 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 adjusted the irregular work permit to limit interns to two such shifts a week, and for them to not work more than 71.5 hours total in a week.

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

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