The Health Ministry has decided to bring in dozens of Georgian doctors to solve the ongoing shortage of doctors in Israel, outgoing ministry director general Avi Yisraeli told Haaretz.

In an interview to mark the end of his six-year term, Yisraeli said the initiative to bring anesthetists and surgeons from Georgia to fill the domestic shortfall was triggered by a chance encounter with Georgia's health minister. Some 20 doctors will arrive in a few months to take part in a pilot program at four hospitals.

"We've been in touch in recent years with countries that are prepared to send us doctors," he said. "They [the doctors] are aware of the high level of Israeli medicine and are interested in working here."

After corresponding with the Georgian health minister, Yisraeli said, "I managed to organize a group of anesthetists and surgeons doing their residencies who will be coming here."

He chose Georgia, he continued, "because of its standard of medicine, and because Israeli Russian-speaking doctors could help the [visiting] doctors settle into hospitals here. We cannot bring doctors from the United States because of the high cost."

"If the pilot program succeeds, we will expand it," he added. "The difference will be felt soon."

To ease the shortage, the ministry has also raised the number of students Israeli medical schools can accept and approved opening a new medical school in Safed.

Several states have recruited foreign doctors in recent years to solve their shortage of medical staff. The British National Health Service, for instance, has brought in hundreds of doctors from eastern Europe, including Poland, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria, the British Medical Journal reported.

At a conference organized by Harvard's School of Public Health last year, Western doctors warned of a growing shortage of physicians in poor countries as a result of doctors' migration to the West.

The World Health Organization reported five years ago that more doctors from Malawi were working in Britain than in Malawi itself, and that most of the doctors who had trained in Zambia had left it for the West. Numerous Russian doctors have migrated to the Gulf states recently.

By 2020, the shortage of doctors is expected to worsen. Barring intervention, the number of doctors per 1,000 people is expected to fall to 2.7 that year, the Health Ministry predicts.

In May, the state comptroller warned of the acute shortage of medical staff, especially in outlying areas of the country. The comptroller found that anesthesiology departments lacked 30 percent of their full complement in 2007, while the number of general surgery residents graduating from Israeli medical schools has dropped from 18 to 7 within seven years. Some hospitals have no surgeons or anesthetists on staff at all.

Yisraeli, who announced his resignation last week, plans to travel overseas to set up a health administration and economics faculty at Milan's Vita-Salute San Raffaele University. After that, he will return to his former post as director of health administration and economics at Hadassah Hospital.