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A Health Ministry panel has found that hospital neonatal wards are short of dozens of doctors, hundreds of nurses and 240 beds, due to the increase in premature births in Israel, ministry officials said.

The committee, headed by Dr. Hezi Levy, director of the ministry's Medical Administration, therefore recommended adding 89 doctors and hundreds of nurses to the neonatal wards. The panel recommended a doctor on duty for every six babies in the wards and a nurse for every 4.5 babies.

In addition, the committee said hospitals should have intensive care units for premature babies in which there would be one doctor for every 3.5 babies and a nurse for every 1.5 babies.

The cost of implementing the committee's recommendations is estimated at tens of millions of shekels a year for several years, a ministry official said. Ministry officials are discussing the recommendations and ways to finance them with the Finance Ministry, he added.

The committee also concluded that the infrastructure of the neonatal wards in some hospitals is incompatible with ministry guidelines. This could damage the preemies' treatment and raise the risk of infection, the committee said.

One tenth of all premature babies are born weighing less than 1,500 grams, ministry data shows. Of these, 31 percent contract sepsis (blood infection ) - 50 percent more than the norm in the United States and Western Europe.

The ministry has decided to adjust the neonatal wards to the Western world's standards in a bid to reduce the risk of infection, the official said.