Cabinet Agrees to Submit Doctors’ Demands to Binding Arbitration: 3000 Doctors Now on Hunger Strike

The Cabinet agreed, in the face of Israel’s worst medical crisis today, to submit the demands of striking doctors to binding arbitration. The decision, which had been strongly opposed by Finance Minister Yoram Aridor. was taken as some of the country’s major hospitals were forced to close because fasting doctors on their staffs were too weak to perform their duties.

The Council of the Israel Medical Association will meet at noon tomorrow to study the wording of the Cabinet communique. Representatives of the striking doctors have begun talks with Attorney General Yitzhak Zamir on that subject and to consider prominent personalities who might be asked to serve as arbitrators.

An estimated 3,000 doctors were on hunger strikes today. The hunger strike began two weeks ago to reinforce the four-month-old general strike by government employed physicians for higher salaries and better working conditions. The doctors and their supporters in the government and Knesset were urging binding arbitration after negotiations with the Treasury came to an impasse.

Cabinet Secretary Dan Meridor said today that Attorney General Zamir would appoint an arbitrator and that he expected the doctors to return to work immediately. Aridor, who had threatened to resign rather than accept a binding decision on salaries imposed by an outside arbitrator, apparently offered no objection to the Cabinet’s decision reached after a six hour session. The decision was to bring all issues still outstanding before the arbitrator.

DOCTORS STILL SUSPICIOUS

The Treasury had insisted earlier that if there was to be arbitration it should cover all of the strike issues, including those on which agreement had been reached during weeks of negotiations. The doctors objected to reopening those issues. But even after the government complied, some doctors remained suspicious. Commenting on the Cabinet decision. Dr. Eli Raz of Kaplan Hospital in Rehovoth said the doctors had been deceived by the government too many times in the past.

The situation that forced the Cabinet to act today was chaotic. Doctors, grimly observing their hunger strike, were collapsing by the scores and many required hospitalization. About 33 physicians were confined to bed at Kaplan Hospital and it appeared that the surgery would have to shut down. Hadassah Hospital at Ein Kerem handled only emergency cases. Its Mt, Scopus medical center was shut down entirely. Haifa’s Rambam Hospital was being run by army reserve doctors.

At Nahariya Hospital, 50 doctors were bedridden and only emergency cases were admitted for treatment. Only one doctor, an army reservist, was on duty.

The nearly total collapse of medical services in Israel raised the possibility that patients in urgent need of treatment would be sent to Arab hospitals on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. According to Israeli opinion, those hospitals are sub-standard and too small to handle a sudden influx of patients. Nevertheless, doctors at Hillel Jaffe Hospital in Hadera announced they would send surgical cases to the Nablus hospital because their own anesthiologists were ill from fasting.

So far there were no reports of Israeli patients being transferred to Arab hospitals. The Magen David Adorn ambulance service said it would not take patients to Gaza because there were no doctors in attendance and the ambulance drivers could not assume responsibility for the patients in transit. The drivers said they would take patients to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba and leave them in the reception room if they are not admitted.

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