The number of hospital beds in the Negev is the lowest in Israel, the doctors are fewer and the shortage is expected to get worse over the coming years, according to a report prepared by the Center for Health Policy Research in the Negev at Ben Gurion University for 2009.

The report was issued ahead of a conference addressing the inferior health conditions in the Negev to be held at Mitzpe Ramon today.

The conference, sponsored by the Center for Health Policy Research and the Merage Foundation, will attempt to outline a program to improve the situation.

The figures provided by the Center for Health Policy Research show that while the number of hospital beds in Israel in 2009 was 1.933 per 100 people - compared with the world average of 3.3 beds per 100 people - in the south it was 1.384.

The figures reflect the situation in all hospital departments, including internal medicine, intensive care, surgery, pediatrics and obstetrics.

The Negev has no rehabilitation facilities and no facilities for hospice care. The nearest rehabilitation beds in the region are in Ashkelon, but even there, their number is 80 percent lower than the national rate and most of them are privately owned.

More people have been admitted to the emergency room at the Soroka Medical University Center than to any other hospital emergency room in the country in recent years, but the region has 50 percent fewer emergency medical facilities than the national average.

The southern district has the fewest emergency rooms, operation rooms, recovery rooms and delivery rooms in Israel. The rate of beds per person is lower than the national average in all the categories by 30-70 percent.

"We have known for a long time that there are big gaps between the health services provided in the center of the country and in the periphery," said Dr. Nadav Davidovich, chairman of the Center for Health Policy Research in the Negev and one of th conference organizers.

The hospitals in the south also come last on medical students' priority list in choosing where to do their internship.

The number of doctors in community-based health-care in the south is 1,779 - 1.64 doctors per 1,000 people, compared with 1.99 doctors per 1,000 people in the center.

The medical staff shortage in community health care centers is expected to increase in the coming years, the report says.