Public health system strikes in protest of violence against medical staff

Hospitals, clinics and HMOs operate on weekend schedule with reduced services for 24 hours as union demands measures to keep health care workers safe from assault

Illustrative: Hadassah Mount Scopus Medical Center workers protest  following recent violence attacks on the staff, May 19, 2022.  Poster reads 'Strike! Stop the violence in the health system.' (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Illustrative: Hadassah Mount Scopus Medical Center workers protest following recent violence attacks on the staff, May 19, 2022. Poster reads 'Strike! Stop the violence in the health system.' (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Staff at public hospitals and clinics launched a one-day strike Monday in protest of a string of violent incidents against medical workers.

The action extends to all general, geriatric, psychiatric, and rehabilitation hospitals in the country, as well as health management organizations, the Israeli Medical Association said in a statement.

It began at 7 a.m. and will continue for 24 hours. The strike went ahead despite a plea from Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov that it be called off.

Sites will operate on a weekend schedule and only offer reduced services. The IMA will operate an exceptions committee to decide on special individual cases. Outpatient and walk-in clinics will also be on strike with the likely cancellation of appointments for check-ups and treatments.

“Urgent dialysis services, intensive care, emergency rooms, delivery rooms, premature births, and oncology treatments will operate during the strike,” the IMA said. IVF treatments will be reviewed by the exceptions committee.

HMOs and district health centers are also expected to reduce their activities with the exception of gastro clinics for operations that cannot be postponed, day treatments, oncology treatments, and late-term reviews for pregnant women.

“Despite the rising violence, and despite the number of cases of violence, neither the employers nor the Health Ministry are doing enough to eradicate cases of violence,” the IMA said.

The union is demanding that more security guards and police be deployed in hospitals and that they be granted greater powers against offenders. The union is also demanding stiffer punishments for people convicted of assaulting medical staff. It has warned that if there is no improvement within weeks it will call additional strikes. There have also been sporadic strikes by hospitals and medical centers in the past over violence.

A strike at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center in protest of recent violence attacks on medical staff, June 16, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Deputy Health Ministry director-general Sefi Mendlovic told the Kan public broadcaster that doctors have a legitimate right to demand a safe work environment, but assessed that the strike will not be effective as a forum established last year to implement changes has already begun to apply recommendations to curb violence.

“There will be violence in the future as well, but it can be greatly reduced through the measures we have begun to adopt and the prison sentences that will be handed down to attackers,” Mendlovic said.

Kan reported Sunday that among the demands made by the IMA to the forum was that police and security guards stationed in hospitals be able to fine offenders on the spot. The legal aspects of the request are being looked into, the report said.

IMA chairman Zion Hagay told Ynet that if within a few weeks there are no significant measures taken to improve safety for medical staff, the union will call more strikes.

His remarks came the same day a doctor was assaulted at a women’s health clinic in Acre. A man accompanying his wife was asked to leave the room during a checkup and responded by slapping the doctor several times and throwing objects at him, Ynet reported. The man was arrested.

Last week police arrested a 17-year-old patient at a women’s health center in Ramle who was suspected of attacking a doctor with brass knuckles and kicking him in the head. The doctor required medical treatment at a nearby hospital.

A day earlier, a two-hour stoppage at Soroka Medical Center was called after a pediatrician was physically assaulted by the parents of a 15-month-old boy who was being treated at the hospital.

Cases of violence against medical staff are not uncommon in Israel. Last June, the doctor’s union announced a two-day strike to protest violence against medics and the state’s alleged failure to implement a plan to combat such incidents.

Last May, the Finance Ministry approved a budget for hiring police officers to be stationed at 28 hospitals across the country, amid mounting violence against medical staff.

The strike came as Israel was left without a health minister after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to fire Aryeh Deri from the role to comply with a High Court ruling that he is not fit to serve as minister due to his past criminal convictions.

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