TEL AVIV (Jan. 5)
Israel’s public health services were virtually paralyzed Sunday by a one-day strike called to protest a government order privatizing six government hospitals.
The job action, which shut down 44 government hospitals and 1,200 Kupat Holim clinics run by the Histadrut labor federation, was taken by some 25,000 nurses, laboratory technicians, paramedics and support personnel, who claim their futures have been placed in jeopardy by the move.
But the strike did not enjoy the support of physicians, many of whom stand to benefit if public service hospitals become semi-independent corporations.
Despite the overwhelming shutdown, services continued in critical hospital departments, such as maternity wards, cancer wards and dialysis units.
The strikers said they were not fully consulted by Health Minister Ehud Olmert before the privatization order went into effect Jan. 1.
Olmert, rebutting the charge, said he had been discussing the plans with the health care workers and others for more than a year. He said the strikers had failed to attend many crucial meetings about the privatization.
The Labor-dominated Histadrut sees the Health Ministry move as an attempt by the Likud health minister to break Kupat Holim’s power and replace it with a general public health system.
Histadrut announced Sunday evening that unless Olmert agrees to change the plans to incorporate the six government hospitals, it will call a general strike of all industries “at a time to be determined.”
‘HEALTH FOR THE RICH’?
Not all the strikers are opposed in principle to the idea of privatization. But they want to ensure their pensions and working conditions within the future independent health centers.
Doctors stand to benefit, because under the new system, the individual managements of the six hospitals concerned would be able to offer more money to physicians who work second and third shifts.
The government has been opposed to paying for extended schedules. Instituting them would cut down the substantial waiting periods for elective surgery, which can take more than a year.
Opponents of hospital incorporation fear the new system will harm the public health infrastructure and encourage establishment of a “health for the rich” system, with more affluent patients paying extra for “black market” or “under the counter” treatment or operations at public facilities.
Some public health experts are not opposed to incorporation as such but feel that individual hospitals will be too small to operate efficiently. They have proposed that hospital services as a whole be peeled away from government control and incorporated into an overall hospital authority, akin to Bezek Telephone or the port and railroad authorities.
Experts are pointing out that Israel has built a world reputation for medical and health innovations, a result of research and development that has been enabled only by the existing large-scale system. They say that individual, privately run hospitals will not be able to invest in such research, since they will be watching their budgets.