Health Ministry chief: Strike over violence against medical staff will harm patients

Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov on Sunday urged the Israel Medical Association to call off a protest at public hospitals and clinics planned for the next day, warning it would harm patients.

In a letter dispatched to the association’s chairman Zion Hagay, Bar Siman-Tov said he did not dispute “the need for an expression of protest” over recent violence directed at medical staff but warned that “the planned steps will hurt patients and their daily routine.”

“Like yourself, Health Ministry officials and I are following recent events with great concern and view with great severity any report of violence in the health system. This phenomenon gravely hurts the system and its employees and should be approached with a zero-tolerance policy,” he wrote in the letter, which was published by Channel 12 news.

Bar Siman-Tov said he would send a letter to all ministry employees summarizing some of the steps already taken to address the violence and the moves the ministry plans to take in the near future to stamp it out completely.

He added that he would tour Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba — the site of a recent violent incident directed at medical staff — on Tuesday and invited Hagay to join him.

“It’s clear that there is still much to be done,” he said, stressing he was “determined” to use all means at his disposal to guarantee a safe health system for patients and staff alike.

Zion Hagay (Screenshot from YouTube; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

He urged Hagay to reconsider the strike. “Considering our readiness to act on the issue, I will ask you to avoid said steps,” Bar Siman-Tov said.

He also voiced support in the letter for doctors and nurses dealing with violent outbursts from patients on a daily basis.

“We are going through a complex and dangerous time where violence directed at medical staff has become a daily occurrence,” he said. “The Health Ministry’s management stands beside you in dealing with this unacceptable phenomenon.”

The planned strike, announced by the doctors union on Thursday, comes after several recent violent incidents in Israeli hospitals.

Most recently, police arrested a 17-year-old patient at a women’s health center in Ramle last week who was suspected of attacking a doctor with brass knuckles and kicking him in the head. The doctor required medical treatment at a nearby hospital.

A day earlier, a two-hour stoppage at Soroka Medical Center was called after a pediatrician was physically assaulted by the parents of a 15-month-old boy who was being treated at the hospital.

Announcing the general strike, the Israel Medical Association said hospitals and clinics will operate on a weekend schedule for all of Monday, offering reduced services. The association will operate a committee to decide on special individual cases.

A screenshot taken from a video showing parents of a toddler assault a doctor at Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba over his refusal to expedite treatment for their son, January 16, 2023. (Twitter/Screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Cases of violence against medical staff are not uncommon. Last June, the doctor’s union announced a two-day strike to protest violence against medics and the state’s alleged failure to implement a plan to combat such incidents.

Last May, the Finance Ministry approved a budget for hiring police officers to be stationed at 28 hospitals across the country, following mounting violence against medical staff.

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