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A NIS 500 million plan to improve the health system, primarily by increasing the number of hospital beds, is expected to be approved by the cabinet this Sunday.

The deal was finalized at a meeting last night between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.

The plan calls for adding 960 hospital beds over the next six years, as Haaretz earlier reported. The goal is to reverse a decade in which the population kept growing, but the number of hospital beds did not increase at all. As a result, Israel now has one of the lowest ratios of hospital beds per 1,000 people in the OECD - only 1.93, compared with 2.6 in Britain, 2.7 in the United States, 3.7 in France, 5.7 in Germany and 8.2 in Japan.

These 960 beds will be on top of the planned establishment of a new, 300-bed hospital in Ashdod, bringing the total increase to 1,260 beds. In addition, 100 beds will be added at psychiatric hospitals.

The plan will also finance 160 additional doctors at government hospitals over the next two years, 185 slots for nursing students, 11 MRI machines (raising the nationwide total from 10 to 21 ) and eight new machines for radiation treatments for cancer patients, an in vitro fertilization unit at Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya, a campaign to increase vaccinations of Bedouin children in the Negev, and incentives to encourage doctors to study understaffed specialties and to work in the periphery.