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The number of physicians and nurses in Israel continues to drop in proportion to the general population, a trend described by the head of the Israel Medical Association as "very grave." An annual report released yesterday by the Health Ministry shows that at the end of last year there were 3.49 doctors here for every 1,000 people under the age of 65. In 2000, that figure was 3.7.

The ministry said the numbers could be explained by doctors' high retirement rates in recent years, as well as the recent drop in the issuance of physicians' licenses and reduced immigration of licensed practitioners.

The report also shows that the number of young physicians - those under 45 - is dropping precipitously. Some 29 percent of physicians in Israel are under that age, compared with 37 percent in 2000 and 43 percent in the mid-1990s.

Nevertheless, the report states that the number of female physicians is on the rise. At the end of 2007, 40 percent of physicians were women, a rise of 3 percent since 1997. Among medical practitioners below the age of 45, nearly half were women. The number of nurses working in Israel has also fallen dramatically. In late 2007, there were 5.7 nurses for every thousand people, compared with 6.0 in 1997.

In 2005, the report said, 1,045 new nurses were registered, compared with 1,839 in 2002. Ministry officials said the deficit applies both to registered nurses and nurse practitioners.

Israel ranks 20th on the list of developed countries in and around Europe in terms of the ratio between nurses and patients.

The situation among Israel's dentists, however, is brighter. Since the 1990s, Israel's ratio of dentists to patients has remained steady at 1.1 per 1,000 people, and 40 percent of dentists are under the age of 40.

Dr. Yoram Belcher, the head of the Israel Medical Association, referred to the situation as "very grave" and said the picture is even more grim than the one presented in the report. Belcher said the report's findings were based on the figure of 25,300 physicians currently working in Israel, whereas the Central Bureau of Statistics has found that only 21,400 doctors are now active in the country.

He said the ministry's total figure includes physicians in managerial positions, and that the actual ratio is somewhere below three physicians for every 1,000 Israelis.

He added that the high demand for medical personnel in the United States has grown in recent years, and with it, the brain drain afflicting Israel will worsen as well.

Officials at the Israel Medical Association said yesterday that the physician deficit is due partly to the development of private medical treatment in Israel, a field far more lucrative to doctors than the public sector.

Belcher also called for drafting an emergency plan for training doctors, one that would include provisions for better compensation of publicly-employed physicians.