Israeli nurses on Tuesday began an open-ended general strike to protest what they say is the government’s failure to address escalating violence against health care professionals.
Overnight negotiations between the National Association of Nurses in Israel and representatives from the Finance and Health ministries did not produce an agreement, and another round of early-morning talks also failed.
The strike will impact nursing services at hospitals and health clinics across the country where nurses will only offer very reduced services mostly for emergencies, natal health, ongoing intensive care, and aged health care.
Nurses are seeking measures to afford them protection from violent attacks, but are also demanding that any promised actions be backed by an increased budget. The nurses want the government to implement the recommendations of a committee, specially convened to address the issue of violence against medical staff, which presented its findings nine months ago.
Among the recommendations were setting up national security units and to operate a distress app for nurses to alert the units when they are under threat.
Ilana Cohen, chair of the nurses union, told Army Radio on Tuesday that health care staff felt abandoned in the face of mounting violence.
“Enough with the violence — we will not become a punching bag, we can’t go on working like this. If someone threatens a member of Knesset, they give him a guard, us they abandon.”
“It is unthinkable that a nurse who turns up for her shift doesn’t know if she will go home safely. What else needs to happen before this country wakes up?”
Cohen said that the way to reduce the violence is through the threat of prison time for offenders.
“The most important clause is the punishment — a person needs to know that there will be a swift trial and they will sit in prison,” she said.
Cohen noted that progress had been made during the nighttime talks but that she refused to sign because the agreement did not also address the issue of the overburdened health system which often sees patients housed in corridors rather than in wards.
“This is a campaign also on behalf of the old woman in the corridor, it is not just a campaign for the nurses, it needs to be for every citizen in Israel, who has to wait so long in the hospitals,” she said.
The state is not expected to seek a court order forcing the nurses to go back to work, the Hebrew-language Ynet website reported.
All hospitals and the Clalit and Meuhedet health organizations will be impacted by the strike. Nurses in the Leumi and Maccabee health organization are not participating as they are not part of the nurses union.
Under the terms of the strike, nurses will only offer duty service in each city for premature babies and pregnant women. In addition, nurses will attend to urgent cases such as rabies, meningitis, or an outbreak of a contagious disease or epidemic.
Blood tests and neonatal screening will be carried out through a nurse at government health bureaus. Vaccination services will not be available during the strike. Family health clinics will be shut.
Operating theaters will work on a reduced service and intensive care units will be maintained by limited staff. Each hospital will establish an emergency team who will be on standby.
In nursing homes, nurses will not provide ambulatory services. Over weekends, nurses will provide reduced services, including home visits, insulin supplies, fertility treatments and oncology treatment.
According to a 2017 Health Ministry report, there are more than 3,000 incidents of violence against medical personnel per year. Only 11 percent of the incidents are reported to police, and only small portion of those are brought to trial.
Nurses briefly went on strike last month after a 65-year-old nurse at Shmuel Harofe Hospital in Be’er Yaakov was stabbed and injured by a patient. According to court documents, 31-year-old asylum seeker Oshar Bakhit stabbed Rachel Kovo out of anger when the hospital refused to re-admit him for treatment.
The Health Ministry strongly condemned the attack on Kovo and ordered security increased at health institutions.
Earlier in July, the Tel Aviv District court sentenced a woman to five months of community service for assaulting hospital security staff at Ichilov Hospital last September. In his ruling, the judge noted that “violence against medical staff and security guards has become widespread and it is incumbent on the court to protect medical staff.”
The issue of violence in the health care system gained prominence in Israel in March last year after a man burned a nurse to death a Holon medical clinic. Asher Faraj, 78, doused nurse Tova Kararo with flammable liquid and set it alight, killing her. According to the indictment, Faraj was angry at Kararo because the flu shot she had given him several days prior made him feel unwell.