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Hundreds of medical students march in Tel Aviv

Medical interns delay mass resignation as officials prepare new work hours plan

Action postponed for 24 hours after Health Ministry says it will present updated offer on reducing workload following rejection of previous plan by doctors-in-training

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

Hundreds of medical interns who were set to hand in resignation letters Sunday as part of a countrywide protest for shorter shifts agreed to put off the move for 24 hours to give the Health Ministry a chance to make an offer to end the standoff.

A previous proposal by the ministry was rejected by interns as not coming anywhere near meeting their demands.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz was to make an announcement later in the day with an updated proposal.

Meanwhile, protests in support of the interns have continued with hundreds of medical students marching in Tel Aviv on Sunday, blocking roads and junctions.

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.

Resignation letters had been prepared for delivery to 20 departments at various hospitals on Sunday, according to the Mirsham organization, which represents some of the country’s interns and which has spearheaded the protest.

A spokesperson for Mirsham told the Times of Israel that Health Ministry officials asked for the delay while efforts continued to find a solution.

Interns planned to present the letters at 1 p.m. but will wait until the same time Monday to give the ministry a chance, the spokesperson said.

Mirsham said at least 50 percent of interns in the departments had signed the letters to be submitted on Sunday, and there were around another 20 departments where a similar percentage of interns have already signed letters that were to be delivered at a later date as the protest campaign continues.

Medical interns demonstrate for better work conditions outside the Tel Aviv District Health Office, October 7, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The resignations were to be the first step in a wave of mass resignations over the issue of shift hours.

Mirsham did not reveal which departments or hospitals the resignations were planned for, in order to prevent pressure being applied on the doctors-in-training to back down.

Dr. Rey Biton, head of Mirsham, said hundreds of interns had signed resignation letters.

“We will fight now for a real shortening of shifts for everyone,” she said in a statement to the Haaretz daily. “What happens in the coming days will decide the future of medicine in Israel.”

Dr. Rey Biton, head of the Mirsham organization of medical interns, January 21, 2021 (Screen grab/Globes)

Biton maintained that the group would not accept the terms of the earlier Health Ministry proposal which, she claimed, does not address the needs of 90% of interns.

On October 7, over 2,500 medical interns delivered resignation letters to the Health Ministry in protest of their workload, raising fears the drain on manpower would impact health care in hospitals. However, it was not clear if the letters, which were posted on the doors of the Tel Aviv District Health Office, were formally accepted.

The government had promised that after the pilot work-reduction 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 had been no deterioration in the level of medical care.

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.

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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