Healthcare strike: ‘Bleeding of doctors won’t be ignored’

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar spoke with Israel Medical Association (IMA) chairman Prof. Zion Hagai on Thursday afternoon after a 24-hour-strike was set into motion by the IMA on Thursday morning.

The strike was implemented in response to violent incidents at both Hadassah-University Medical Center on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus and the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariyah.

For the duration of the strike, public hospitals across Israel will be operating in “Shabbat mode,” meaning that they will not be performing any non-urgent elective surgeries or running outpatient clinics.

In addition to the hospitals, the country’s four HMOs (Clalit Health Services, Maccabi Healthcare Services, Meuhedet Health Maintenance Organization and Leumit Health Care Services) will also participate in the strike, shuttering their community clinics with the exception of urgent cases.

A statement issued by Maccabi Healthcare Services condemned the violence faced by medical staff in recent days and stressed that they have “zero tolerance for violence of any kind.”

They also reported that they are involved in various projects in cooperation with the Health Ministry and the Public Security Ministry in order to increase security at their medical clinics, and added that Maccabi medical staff would be free to participate in the strike for as long as necessary.

Protest against violence towards medical staff at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, May 19, 2022 (credit: SHAARE ZEDEK MEDICAL CENTER)Protest against violence towards medical staff at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, May 19, 2022 (credit: SHAARE ZEDEK MEDICAL CENTER)

“Maccabi will continue to stand by all its medical teams that work day and night for the health of the public,” they concluded.

The demands laid out by the IMA ahead of the strike included police presence in emergency rooms, increased and improved security systems in hospitals and medical clinics, and changing legislation so that attacking a medical staff member would be treated the same as attacking a uniformed police officer.

The strike was implemented following two violent incidents at hospitals earlier in the week, with a man in his 20s having been arrested at the Hadassah-University Medical Center for attacking staff and destroying hospital property on Monday, and family members of a deceased motorcycle crash victim attempting to break into the trauma center at the Galilee Medical Center on Wednesday evening.

“The bleeding of doctors will not be ignored,” said IMA chairman Prof. Zion Hagai. “And for as long as the government does not take immediate action, we will not hesitate to intensify our measures.”

By Thursday afternoon, Hagai reported that he had spoken with Justice Minister Sa’ar about establishing a course of action to combat the wave of violence against medical staff.

“There is no doubt that the most effective response to the epidemic of violence requires a set of measures including a significant change of approach to enforcement and punishment, including legislative changes,” said Hagai following the meeting.

In a statement on the issue, Sa’ar said his office will examine various measures to increase the punishment against those who act violently towards medical staff, with a focus on the specific demands laid out by the IMA.

However, even as the strike was already underway, violence toward medical staff continued. An Israel Police report on Thursday morning indicated that a man in his 50s had been arrested after threatening a medical staff member in the surgical ward of Soroka-University Medical Center in Beersheba.

In addition to the strike itself, medical staff arranged for rallies and protests to be held outside hospital buildings throughout the day on Thursday, including Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, Samson Assuta Ashdod Hospital and Bnai Zion Hospital in Haifa.

Director-General of Assuta Ashdod, Dr. Erez Barenboim issued a statement, saying that “violence against medical staff has become a routine occurence,” and extending his support for the strike and protest.

“It is inconceivable that those who work day and night for patients should also learn to defend themselves,” he added.

Joining those protesting outside Hadassah-University Medical Center, Mount Scopus was the IMA chairman himself, who called in Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to immediately implement operative measures to prevent further violence against medical staff, saying that hospitals have experienced “a tsunami of violence” in recent days.

“We will not give up the fight until the personal safety of medical staff is restored,” he added.

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