Nurses end strike after deal with Finance Ministry to solve manpower shortages
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Nurses end strike after deal with Finance Ministry to solve manpower shortages

Health and finance ministries pledge to hire 2,000 new nurses and 400 more doctors, spend billions on equipment; 1,507 new virus cases diagnosed over the day

Ilana Cohen, chairwoman of the National Nurses Union, speaks during a protest at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan on July 20, 2020, after nurses announced a general strike. (Flash90)
Ilana Cohen, chairwoman of the National Nurses Union, speaks during a protest at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan on July 20, 2020, after nurses announced a general strike. (Flash90)

The National Nurses Union and the Finance Ministry reached an agreement Monday to end a general strike that began earlier in the day over manpower shortages at Israeli medical centers.

The agreement will see the addition of 2,000 temporary nursing positions and 400 doctors’ positions in the state-run healthcare system and the hiring of additional security personnel at sensitive locations. A team will be formed to agree on permanent staffing numbers within a month.

The sides also agreed to have nurses work in a “capsule” system in which they’ll work during set shifts to prevent spreading of the coronavirus.

A final decision was still to be made on salaries for nurses required to quarantine after being exposed to a virus carrier.

The agreement came after several hours after Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Finance Minister Israel Katz announced they would hire 2,000 more nurses and 400 doctors and purchase additional medical equipment “to enable optimal coping with the challenges of the coronavirus,” according to a joint statement from the ministers.

The ministers also agreed to spend billions of shekels to boost COVID-19 testing levels for the winter and to purchase more flu shots and equipment to improve health maintenance organizations’ telemedicine capabilities. The statement didn’t say specifically how much would be allocated to these areas.

Nurses from Hadassah Medical Center protest in Jerusalem on July 20, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Earlier Monday, nurses had launched a general strike after last-ditch talks with the Treasury seeking to prevent the strike failed, saying manpower shortages have made it impossible to continue their work.

The Health Ministry said Sunday that there were 813 nurses in quarantine, with the Ynet news site reporting that there had been no additional staff additions even as hospitals open more coronavirus wards.

The protest received the support of Edelstein, who on Monday acknowledged the chronic shortage of nurses in Israel and called on the Treasury to help solve it.

“The manpower shortage isn’t only due to the coronavirus,” he said during a tour of Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Medical Center.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein speaks during a press conference at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem on July 15, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The National Nurses Union initially declared a labor dispute last month, stating that nurses’ heavy workload detracted from their ability to provide proper care to patients.

Nurses across Israel also went on strike last summer, protesting what they said at the time were poor working conditions, heavy caseloads and low standards of care.

Also on Monday evening, Health Ministry statistics showed 1,507 new coronavirus infections had been diagnosed throughout the day.

There were 264 people in serious condition from the virus, 80 of them on ventilators, according to the ministry figures. Another 122 were in moderate condition, with the rest showing mild or no symptoms.

Out of 52,003 infections confirmed since the start of the pandemic, 29,434 were active.

There were no new fatalities, with the national death roll remaining at 415.

Medical workers in the coronavirus ward at Sheba Medical Center team in Ramat Gan on July 20, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

The increase came after the Health Ministry said 1,008 new cases were recorded on Sunday, down markedly from recent daily increases.

The Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center, a government body operating under the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate in cooperation with the Health Ministry, has noted that though there has consistently been a decrease in new cases after weekends — when testing levels typically drop — the number of tests performed this weekend “decreased significantly from the trend” of recent weeks.

While the number of new cases per day dropped to the low dozens by May, Israel has seen a surge in infections since it reopened schools, rolled back limitations on movement and eased most restrictions on the economy. The government has reimposed far-reaching restrictions in a bid to halt the continued rise in new infections, but is at odds with the Knesset on the extent of the new measures.

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