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Comptroller slams hospitals for bed shortages, poor conditions

Lack of emergency doctors heightens risk of misdiagnosis while medical tourism takes resources from Israeli patients – report

Illustrative photo of a patient kept in a corridor dur to overcrowding at a hospital. (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of a patient kept in a corridor dur to overcrowding at a hospital. (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)

A state comptroller report released on Tuesday pointed to a severe shortage of beds and medical equipment in Israeli hospitals, a situation it said posed a significant risk to the lives of some 500 patients.

The scathing report slammed the healthcare system for a shortage of qualified emergency care doctors and nurses, and for hospital overcrowding — a condition it said both undermined patients’ privacy and heightened the risk of infections.

The report also found that the Environmental Protection Ministry had not enforced anti-pollution laws.

“More than 500 patients are at a higher risk of dying due to a shortage in hospital beds,” State Comptroller Yosef Shapira charged in the report presented to Knesset Speaker MK Yuli Edelstein (Likud).

Only 30 percent of positions for physicians specializing in urgent care were filled, Shapira wrote, and the slack is taken up by other specialist doctors. The fill-in specialists, Shapira noted, “believe some patients die or become disabled due to a misidentification of medical problems, due to a shortage of physicians specializing in urgent care.”

Substandard hospitalization conditions are also one of the main problems of the system, the comptroller found, compromising patients’ privacy and raising the risk of infections. Shapira also mentioned a shortage of suitable clothing for patients and said some hospital meals are served cold. Patients are often treated in corridors or even dining rooms due to a shortage of wards and are not always provided with screens or curtains to protect their privacy in the public areas, it said.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira (R) hands the State Comptroller's report to chairman of the Israeli parliament MK Yuli Edelstein, May 05, 2015. (photo credit: Isaac Harari/ Flash90)
State Comptroller Yosef Shapira (R) hands the State Comptroller’s report to chairman of the Israeli parliament MK Yuli Edelstein, May 05, 2015. (photo credit: Isaac Harari/ Flash90)

“Hospitalization under these conditions doesn’t allow for privacy, compromises the dignity of the patient, and raises the exposure of the patient to unnecessary dangers, among them catching infections,” the report stated.

Shapira’s findings follow on the heels of numerous television reports in recent years which showed elderly patients lying on hospital beds in corridors for lack of ward space, and departments filled with patients way beyond their stated capacity.

The report also pointed to the deplorable state of internal medicine. Doctors are frequently worked above their quotas, and there are three MRI machines for every million patients in Israel, compared to 14 per million on average in OECD countries, it said.

The high standard of medical expertise in Israel draws a significant amount of “medical tourism” – people who come from abroad to receive complex procedures at the hand of highly specialized Israeli surgeons. Shapira noted that “the service given to citizens of the state is undermined by providing medical tourism services in general hospitals. Medical tourism uses resources and infrastructure in hospitals which are under-equipped and intended, first and foremost, to serve the general population of Israel.”

Shapira also backed claims by environmental groups that the Environment Protection Ministry was not effectively enforcing legislation governing the amount of pollution factories are permitted to emit.

The report said the ministry failed to monitor the emissions and refrained from using the punitive measures within its purview against offenders. These include financial penalties as well as legal measures.

Among the problematic areas included in the report are the factories in the Haifa area, which have been at the focus of recent demonstrations by residents of the area who, fearing for their health, are demanding the pollution levels be cut down.The protests came after a Health Ministry report pointed to the alarmingly high cancer rates among residents of the area, notably among children, due to pollution.

View of chimneys from a refinery in Haifa Bay (Photo credit: Shay Levy/Flash90)
View of chimneys from a refinery in Haifa Bay (Photo credit: Shay Levy/Flash90)

The Environmental Protection Ministry can sanction factories under the Clean Air Law, which was enacted four years ago. It monitors the amount of pollution by testing samples which are supposed to be given by factories or by collecting samples during surprise visits by ministry inspectors.

According to Shapira’s report, neither type of sample was taken in sufficient amounts. In 2013, for example, no surprise visits were made by inspectors to factories in Haifa, while in the two preceding years, the number of such visits was half the number projected by the ministry in its work plan.

Shapira wrote that the ministry did not use its powers in penalizing offenders, especially the legal measures, which are considered a stronger deterrent since they would hold factory managers personally responsible. Nearly half the inspections that developed into lawsuits on allegations of illegal pollution were those filed against factories in the Haifa district, the report said.

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