Doctors Wary of New Health Plan As Compromise Proposal is Offered

A compromise proposal to end the health care crisis at Israel’s public hospitals appeared to have won the approval of government and Histadrut officials early Wednesday.

But striking doctors said they didn’t know enough about the plan yet to decide whether or not to accept it. Hospital nurses rejected it outright on grounds it does not address their specific needs. They called a hunger strike to protest.

The compromise, credited to Premier Yitzhak Shamir, was accepted by representatives of the Treasury, the Health Ministry and Kupat Holim, Histadrut’s health care agency, after some 12 hours of continuous debate that ended at dawn Wednesday.

So far, details of the plan released to the public are sketchy. It calls for a 5 percent premium to cover second-shift use of operating rooms at public hospitals.

Presumably part of the money will be used to recompense doctors for the extra duty. It replaces a 75 percent allocation to the physicians pension fund, which was one of the doctors’ early demands.

Still, Finance Minister Moshe Nissim, who absolutely refuses to consider salary increases for publicly employed doctors, said Wednesday he had “certain reservations” about the proposals. He said he would discuss them with the prime minister.

Second-shift surgery, with commensurate remuneration, has been the center of the dispute that has created havoc in recent months at Israel’s many public hospitals.

It is intended to reduce the large backlog of patients who have been waiting as long as two years for non-emergency operations and other medical procedures.

THOUSANDS ON WAITING LIST

Government officials put their number at 15,000 and say the waiting list can be erased in nine months. Doctors say the number of patients waiting for elective surgery and other treatment is closer to 45,000 and will take much longer to complete.

The strongest reaction to the compromise came from the nurses union, which sent a delegation to start a demonstrative hunger strike outside the prime minister’s office Wednesday.

The nurses said the arrangements appear to have been made to satisfy the physicians’ demands for extra pay for extra shifts, but ignore the nurses’ demands for higher single-shift salaries.

Negative reactions were also expected from hospital administrative, maintenance and cleaning staffs. who say second-shift use of operating rooms will add to their workload.

Meanwhile, doctors continued their work sanctions, shutting down hospital outpatient clinics and performing only emergency surgery.

They were joined in their job action Wednesday by pharmacists at the government and kupat Holim hospitals in the southern region of the country.

The druggists said they were closing their dispensaries for three days because their own wage demands are being ignored.

News of a compromise brought an end to a hunger strike by about 10 opposition members of the Knesset. it began Sunday with a demonstration outside the prime minister’s office while the Cabinet was in session.

The Knesset members, representing parties on the far right and left, said they would subsist on water and fruit juices for a week to protest the government’s failure to resolve the hospitals crisis.

By Tuesday, however, hunger took its toll. Three of the strikers had to be hospitalized.

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