As the nurses' strike enters its fourth day, the patients' suffering is increasing. Numerous operations have been postponed, work in the outpatient clinics has been disrupted and the hospital wards are operating on a skeleton staff.

Despite the strike, the Finance Ministry is holding continuous talks with the nurses, who are demanding a significant 15 percent pay raise to their basic wage and a reduction of their enormous work load. The differences between the sides are vast. The treasury agrees to pay a modest increment to the basic wage and certain increments for shift work. It also agrees to help alleviate the shortage of nurses by giving a grant to every nurse who is ready to work more hours and to every new nurse.

But the nurses have rejected the treasury's proposals. They say the solution is raising the basic wage because their pay is low. The treasury says other academics in the state's employ, such as social workers, economists and engineers, earn less than nurses. The treasury released data showing the average pay of a nurse working full time is some NIS 15,000 a month.

The nurses' work, including shifts, is difficult and demanding. When the pressure on the wards increases, as it does this time of year, and the corridors fill up with beds, the main burden falls on the nurses. So the treasury must be more generous in its proposals for pay raises for shift work and grants for increased work hours.

However, it is hard to demand that the treasury raise the nurses' basic wage significantly at this time. It's election eve and the attorney general has instructed the Finance Ministry to manage budget expenses in a responsible manner. This is due to the fear that politicians on election eve will be liberal in handing out pay raises, with an eye to the polls. Also, the budget is in an extremely dire state that will require a hefty NIS 14 billion cut in expenses for 2013.

All this leads to the conclusion that both sides must be more flexible and reach a temporary solution now, which will bring the nurses back to work. After a new government is set up and a new budget is approved, the sides can once again discuss the nurses' wages.