Medical residents rescind resignation threat as Lapid intervenes to shorten shifts

PM mediates deal to prepare to reduce shifts to 16 hours in outlying areas, though all hospitals can go ahead now if they can manage the shorter hours

Medical residents demonstrate for better work conditions on HaBima square in Tel Aviv, on August 30, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Medical residents demonstrate for better work conditions on HaBima square in Tel Aviv, on August 30, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Medical residents threatening to resign en masse over lengthy shifts in hospitals withdrew their letters of resignation on Monday after Prime Minister Yair Lapid intervened to mediate an agreement on the matter.

Lapid instructed that preparations be made, including the provision of budgeting, to shorten shifts from 26 to 16 hours in hospitals in outlying areas beginning in September next year.

In addition, any hospitals that are able to do so have been given the go-ahead to already shorten residents’ shifts.

Mirsham, which represents many medical residents in Israel, has been lobbying the Health Ministry to reduce shifts from 26 hours to 16-18, saying that the long shifts are a danger to both the medical professionals and the patients.

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, citing procedural problems caused by the upcoming elections.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement that Lapid had agreed with Economy Minister Orna Barbivai and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz to advance the change and allocate the necessary resources immediately.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, left, welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid, right, with military honors for a meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, September 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Lapid ordered the Finance Ministry to allocate NIS 66 million ($19.6 million) to budget the move, which the attorney general had approved even before the approaching November 1 elections. The Finance Ministry has in the past said that allocating a budget before the election was not permissible.

“The shifts of the interns are insane, their conditions for making life and death decisions are impossible,” Lapid said in a statement and promised to “harness the health maintenance organizations and the hospitals” in the process of shortening the shifts.

Lapid, who negotiated the agreement from Berlin, where he is on an official visit, also spoke with Rey Biton, who heads Mirsham.

“Today, we have advanced dozens of steps forward. We have brought a great achievement,” Biton said at a press conference and stressed that it was Lapid’s involvement that enabled a “breakthrough” the ended the crisis.

She said the resident doctors “will continue to work so that it will be implemented as soon as possible in every hospital in Israel for the interns and for the entire public in Israel.”

Horowitz called in a statement for the allocation of resources and the creation of new doctor positions to fill the needed hours.

“It is possible and necessary to start immediately,” the health minister said.

However, Zion Hagay, head of the Israel Medical Association, a much larger organization than Mirsham, criticized Lapid for the outcome, saying it would be a “death sentence” for public health in outlying areas.

He argued that the only hospitals that can already shorten shifts without government financial assistance are those in central regions, which will make it even harder for medical centers in other area to attract doctors.

Earlier in the day the residents had delayed for a second time mass resignation in order to give negotiations more time to bring an agreement. In August, hundreds of medical residents across the country submitted letters of resignation due to the long-running dispute over lengthy shift hours.

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