Health Ministry chief decries latest ‘shocking’ attack on medical worker

Nachman Ash rails at ‘atmosphere that permits blood[shed] of healthcare providers’; nurses union announces it will join work slowdown

A photo released by the Health Ministry shows Dr. Idit Weisbach following an attack by a patient at a clinic in Beer Yaakov on June 14, 2022 (Health Ministry)
A photo released by the Health Ministry shows Dr. Idit Weisbach following an attack by a patient at a clinic in Beer Yaakov on June 14, 2022 (Health Ministry)

Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash on Wednesday sharply criticized the ongoing violence against healthcare providers, a day after a doctor was badly beaten by a patient at a community clinic.

“It’s a general atmosphere that permits the blood[shed] of healthcare providers and for no reason,” Ash told the Ynet news site. “A doctor was busy and couldn’t see a patient so he broke into a room with an iron bar and hit her on repeatedly on the head and other parts of her body.

“I talked to the doctor and I understand that it was very fortunate that it ended the way it did [and wasn’t worse],” he said.

“It’s just shocking, and this violent discourse and behavior must be stopped.”

Ash also linked repeated incidents of violence against healthcare providers to anti-vaccine discourse that became prevalent during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The connection exists because any discourse that encourages violence ultimately also leads to violence. These are two things that until now we did not want to link,” Ash said. “The violence toward [officials] is one matter and this violence toward healthcare providers is a second issue. But everything is connected.”

A number of top officials and doctors have faced verbal abuse and threats from anti-vaccine activists. Most notably, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the Health Ministry’s head of public services and a top COVID adviser to the government, has been repeatedly threatened by anti-vaccine activists and conspiracy theorists who view her as the public face of the health system’s inoculation effort.

Health Minister Director-General Nachman Ash attends a press conference about the coronavirus, in Jerusalem on August 29, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Ash noted that while there were newly announced plans to station police at hospitals, community clinics were more of an issue.

“It really is a much bigger challenge. I want to say that having police in hospitals will not solve everything either. It is impossible to put a police officer in every clinic — that is clear. I believe that punishment is the key, to create deterrence,” Ash said.

Medical workers protest at the Hadassah Medical Center’s Mount Scopus campus following recent violent attacks on medical staff, May 19, 2022 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Ash’s comments came as the suspect in Tuesday’s attack on a doctor in the central city of Be’er Yaakov appeared in court on Wednesday for a remand hearing. Police were seeking to charge him with attempted murder.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, the court was told that the suspect is alleged to have attacked the doctor with a meat tenderizer.

According to police, the suspect, a resident of the town in his 30s, went to the clinic for medical treatment. While at the clinic he began to behave wildly. He refused to leave when asked by the doctor to do so, and instead grabbed a weapon and hit her on the head.

The doctor was moderately wounded and taken to a nearby hospital for further treatment. The man was apprehended by police shortly afterwards.

Tuesday’s attack was the latest in a string of acts of violence in hospitals and clinics in recent months.

Damage to the intensive care unit at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem caused by family members of a patient who died there, May 16, 2022. (Hadassah spokesperson)

In the wake of the latest attack, the doctor’s union announced staff at public hospitals and clinics will go on a two-day strike to protest violence against medics, by operating on a weekend schedule with reduced services for all of Thursday and Friday.

“We have made it clear over the past year unequivocally that any case of violence will encounter zero tolerance on our part,” the chairman of the Israel Medical Association, Prof. Zion Hagay, said on Tuesday.

“The most recent strike has led to an important government decision to place police in emergency rooms and allocate the necessary manpower, but we must look solely at how things are implemented on the ground. As long as we do not see real action in the immediate term, we will intensify our actions until someone here wakes up and understands that violence in the health system is a real epidemic,” he said.

The nurses union said Wednesday that it will be joining the strike.

The upcoming strike is the second initiated by the doctors’ union in recent weeks. A labor action was called last month after family members of a patient who died at a Jerusalem hospital attacked medical staff and caused significant damage to an intensive care unit after they were informed of his death.

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