Though hospital neonatal units are short of both space and staff as birth rates soar, a Health Ministry report on hospital bed overcrowding, due out this morning, says that in 2011 these units actually lost six beds.

"It makes no sense that they would reduce beds - births are increasing," said Prof. Shaul Dolberg, chairman of the Israel Neonatal Society. "Neonatal departments should be growing. In 2010 there were around 163,000 births, and in 2011 there were 171,000 births; there's a serious lack of personnel and hospitals are releasing babies after 36 hours instead of 48 hours due to lack of space."

Prof. Arnon Afek, head of the Health Ministry's medical administration, said more beds will be allocated to neonatal departments in the agreement with the Treasury calling for 1,000 additional beds.

"We know that occupancies are very high and that there's overcrowding in the neonatal intensive care units," Afek said. "We're in the process of adding beds."

The report also notes a major reduction in the number of beds for psychiatric patients over the past decade: In 2000 there were 5,619 beds, while in 2011 there were only 3,459 beds.

"It's not as if we've been removing beds and closing psychiatric departments as was happening in the early 2000s; over the past few years the number has actually stabilized," said Afek. "But the population has grown. This is a very complex issue, but it's clear that the more we strengthen psychiatric treatment in the community, there will be a need for fewer hospitalizations." Dr. Gadi Lubin, head of the ministry's mental health division, said the reduction in psychiatric beds is a worldwide trend.

"This stems from improvements in treatment that enable more people to be rehabilitated within the community," he said. "There's a big effort being made to integrate [mental health patients] in the community, rather than hospitalize them. What was once the norm has become the exception."

103 new beds

Lubin said there might be beds added during discussions with the treasury over corrections to the agreement, "But even if there will be corrections, it will only be dozens of beds."

Among hospital beds in general, there has been a reduction of 15 percent in their number relative to the population over the past decade, even though 103 beds were recently added. In 2000 there were 2.23 beds per thousand people, while at the end of 2011 there were only 1.88 beds per thousand.

There was also a 10 percent drop in beds per thousand in rehabilitation facilities over the past six years, as well as deeper shortages in nursing facilities since 2008, even though 300 beds had been added recently.

Only one operating room has been added to the 439 listed in 2010, and Afek said lack of personnel means even these are not used fully.

What's more, hospitals have a financial disincentive to increase the number of operations performed because after a certain number, they bring in less money.

"When operations exceed a certain quota, they only get from 30 percent to 50 percent funding for each additional operation," Afek said.