Nurses go on strike to protest working conditions, heavy caseloads

Walkout impacts hospitals and health clinics across Israel; emergency care and other essential services to continue

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)

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 and low standards of care.

The strike began at 7 a.m. and impacts nursing services at hospitals and health clinics across the country where nurses will only offer reduced services.

Emergency treatment, including surgeries, will still be available. Other essential services, such as care for hospitalized patients, intensive care, neonatal care, oncological treatment and dialysis, would be available, but limited. In nursing schools, staff would not work.

Geriatric and psychiatric facilities will continue 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.

The Health Ministry said that it had tried to prevent the strike in talks with the union.

“Representatives of the state met today with the National Nurses Union in order to prevent the anticipated harm to patients as a result of the planned strike tomorrow,” the Health Ministry said. “There were many constructive proposals in the meeting, but unfortunately the talks did not reach an agreement, and the state will turn to the Labor Court tomorrow.”

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 Organisation 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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