Court orders striking nurses back to work after two-day standoff
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Court orders striking nurses back to work after two-day standoff

Medical staff protesting heavy caseloads, poor working conditions in hospitals and clinics told to enter talks with Health Ministry

Nurses protest against their work conditions outside the Ministry of Health in Jeursalem July 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Nurses protest against their work conditions outside the Ministry of Health in Jeursalem July 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Tel Aviv Labor Court on Wednesday ordered nurses to end their two-day strike and return to work while negotiating with the Health Ministry to reduce their workload.

Nurses went on strike across Israel on Tuesday after negotiations between the National Nurses Union and the Health Ministry broke down the day before. The nurses are protesting what they say are poor working conditions, heavy caseloads amid a manpower shortage and low standards of care.

The court decision permitted the nurses to continue with minor acts of protests, such as refusing to perform non-essential tests or computerize information, but also maintained the ministry could reduce their salaries in retaliation, according to reports.

The court decision was welcomed by the Health Ministry, which said it would immediately resume talks with the National Nurses Union.

“We came here because we think the labor action and strikes are not good for the healthcare system and the patients and we can enter a process of dialogue… we accept the court decision and enter negotiations,” said Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov, according to Channel 12.

The nurses union also expressed cautious optimism that a solution could quickly be found.

“The nurses are falling apart and cannot continue this way,” said National Nurses Union head Ilana Cohen, according to the network. “There are solutions that can certainly be found within a week.”

Nurses protest against their work conditions outside the Ministry of Health in Jerusalem July 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The strike began at 7 a.m. on Tuesday and impacted nursing services at hospitals and health clinics across the country, where nurses only offered reduced services. Emergency treatment, including surgeries, were still available. Other essential services, such as care for hospitalized patients, intensive care, neonatal care, oncological treatment and dialysis, were available but limited. Geriatric and psychiatric facilities continued to function, but service will be limited.

“The health and finance ministries are directly responsible for the intolerable queues in providing health care to the public and community. They create heavy burdens for the nurses and undermine their ability to provide safe and appropriate treatment to patients,” the nurses said in a statement on Tuesday.

Crowded Sourasky Medical Center Ichilov, Tel Aviv. (photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)
A patient waits for a room in the Sourasky Medical Center Ichilov in Tel Aviv. (Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)

A recent report by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel said that Israel’s health system has been subject to systemic failures in planning, budgeting and regulation by the government, resulting in an acute shortage of beds, inefficiencies and gaps in accessibility of treatment.

The report found that the country lags behind others in the 36-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in number of hospital beds, and has shorter hospital stays and particularly high occupancy rates.

In Israel, the number of hospital beds per 1,000 people is 2.2 versus 3.6 in the OECD. While the number of beds is trending down in most countries, the decline is especially sharp in Israel — a 22 percent decline versus an OECD average of 15% between 2002 and 2017.

The shorter average hospitalization time in Israel — about five days per patient in contrast to an average of 6.7 days among all OECD countries — and the high occupancy rate, about 94% versus an average of 75% in the OECD, diminishes hospitals’ ability to handle emergencies and points to a potentially lower level of treatment quality, the report said.

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