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Israeli First-aid Workers Strike; Ministerial Decision Hits a Snag

Israel’s health care crisis took a sharp turn for the worse Monday when employees of Magen David Adom, the paramedical first-aid society that is Israel’s equivalent of the Red Cross, went on strike.

Meanwhile, walkouts by doctors and nurses continued, and a ministerial decision last week that might have eased the hospital crisis now appears to have been still-born.

The issue in the paramedics’ strike, like those which have put the country’s public hospitals on a restricted-service schedule for weeks, is wage-related. The MDA workers are protesting management’s failure to pay their salaries for June, due July 1.

The strike began as a partial walkout in the morning, but by noon was virtually total, even though the Finance Ministry promised to make available at least enough money to meet the payroll.

But distrust of the ministry runs high. Only one ambulance was left on duty at each of MDA’s 45 emergency stations around the country Monday morning.

None of the ambulances was a specially equipped cardiac care unit, since the paramedics who administer emergency treatment to suspected heart attack victims had all walked off the job.

Blood donations also were suspended because of a shortage of plastic bags for storage. Suppliers will not make deliveries, because of nearly a million dollars in unpaid bills.

The MDA management said it has no money to pay its creditors or staff, because the Treasury seized all of its funds for failure to pay taxes.

DOCTORS’ STRIKE CONTINUES

Meanwhile, government and Histadrut hospitals in central Israel were hit by the doctors’ rotating work sanctions Monday. Outpatient clinics were closed and only emergency surgery was performed. Duty staffs were reduced to the Sabbath roster.

The nurses union, meanwhile, carried out its threat to send a quarter of its members on two-week “vacations” on a rotating basis, but made no provisions for minimum staffing of the wards.

The hospital situation seemed to be on the verge of solution last week, when the special ministerial committee charged with ending the crisis agreed to a plan that would benefit patients and physicians alike.

The committee, composed of Premier Yitzhak Shamir, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Finance Minister Moshe Nissim and Health Minister Shoshana Arbeli-Almoslino, decided after nearly a month of deliberation that funds would be provided for second-shift use of operating theaters.

They announced Friday that the backlog of 15,000 patients who have been waiting as long as two years for elective surgery would be erased within nine months.

The Treasury agreed to provide funds to compensate the doctors for their extra duty in the operating theaters. The way in which the money would be channeled remained to be decided, because the Finance Ministry refuses to consider salary increases for doctors at state run hospitals.

Those at the hospitals of Kupat Holim, Histadrut’s health care agency, were to be paid out of additional health insurance fees. But the Medical Association promptly balked.

It charged the scheme was election-year window dressing and said the figure of 15,000 patients on the surgical waiting lists was much too low. According to the association, it would be closer to 50,000, if less serious but essential procedures were included.

The Medical Association also insisted that increased compensation should be enjoyed by all doctors, not only the surgeons.

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