Nurses across Israel went on a 24-hour strike on Monday morning, after overnight negotiations betweent the Finance Ministry and the chairman of the national nurses union failed to reach an agreement to prevent the strike.
Negotiations between the parties started on Sunday afternoon, and continued until 4 A.M. on Monday morning, when the talks reached an impasse.
The two sides reached an understanding that the severe shortage of nurses in Israel's health system is a matter of national priority that requires exceptional steps. In return, however, the treasury demanded that nurses agree to hospitalization of patients even when hospitals reach occupancy levels of 150 percent, and that they agree to maintain industrial peace.
The chairperson of the national nurses union, Ilana Cohen, made it clear that no consensus could be reached without a solution for patients lying in hospital corridors, saying that corridor medicine endangers the lives of patients.
The Finance Ministry said that “despite the efforts of Deputy Minister of Finance and representatives of his office to find solutions to alleviate the burden on nurses, an agreement has still not been reached and the nurses decided to strike today. Negotiations will also continue today in order to reach to solutions to end the strike as soon as possible.”
“There is an agreement from the Treasury to make nursing an attractive profession, but nothing has been put in writing yet,” Cohen said, adding that the nurses have demanded additional beds to deal with the high rate of patient intake at hospitals.
“They want me to allow 80 people in a wards and to commit to industrial peace,” she said. “The wards look like parking lots of beds, children are hospitalized one on top of the other, beds are in corridors and next to the toilet. It makes no sense and I will not let patients continue to get this kind of treatment. Patients are not numbers,” she said.
The nurses’ struggle began a year ago, after the nursing teams collapsed under the pressure caused by high occupancy of hospital wards across the country. After nurses resorted to organizational measures, it was agreed that occupancy in internal medicine wards would be reduced immediately to 120 percent, and this year it will be reduced again to 115 percent.
In addition, nursing teams in internal medicine wards were increased, but in recent weeks, wards reached occupancy levels of 140 percent and nursing staff have again collapsed under the strain. Last week, nurses from hospitals in southern Israel abandoned their wards to protests the situation.
Nursing staff from Clalit Health Services community clinics, health offices, baby care clinics, schools and public hospitals across the country are participating in the strike.
In hospital wards, nursing teams are working at limited capacity. Operating theater nursing staff are working Shabbat hours, and will only deal with emergency cases. Oncology and dialysis wards, delivery rooms, premature infant and newborn departments, fertility units and emergency rooms will work with a reduced nursing staff, but will provide regular service. Nurses in geriatric and psychological hospitals will not strike.
A family health clinic will operate in every city which will treat premature infants and pregnant women at risk. Student nurses will also strike, and overseas immunization clinics will be closed.
So far, 2012 has seen a number of strikes and labor disputes. Workers at Haifa, Ashdod and Eilat ports began a strike on Sunday morning, but returned to work on Sunday night, after agreement was brokered by the labor court to postpone the strike while negotiations continue.
Earlier this month, the Israel Railways union announced a strike, freezing the country’s national train service only one day after days-long a nationwide general strike was called off after an agreement was reached by the Finance Ministry and Histadrut labor federation.
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