Nurses at Beilinson Hospital - David Bachar - 30112011
Nurses at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva. Photo by David Bachar
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The number of nurses per capita in Israel is among the lowest of Western nations, while the average occupancy rate in internal medicine wards in government hospitals reached 114 percent on Tuesday.

The figures on nurses came in a Health Ministry report on a comprehensive survey of medical personnel working in the country's medical institutions.

In 2010 the number of people employed in medical institutions in Israel was 181,000, including 102,000 medical professionals. Of these, there were 26,000 physicians and 35,000 nurses, which works out to 4.76 nurses per 1,000. Of all OECD member states only South Korea (at 4.51 per thousand ) and Mexico (2.46 per thousand ) are worse off. The rest are far ahead of Israel: In the United Kingdom, for example, there are 9.46 nurses per 1,000, while Germany and Switzerland boast nearly 11 and 15.2 for every thousand residents, respectively.

The ratio of nurses to doctors in Israel is also low, at 1.4 nurses per physician, compared to three per physician in Germany, 3.5 in the United Kingdom and 4.4 nurses for every physician in Japan, for example.

"There is a huge shortage of nurses in Israel," the chairwoman of the national nurses' union, Ilana Cohen, said on Tuesday. "I've talked to the treasury about it. You can't go to the store and buy nurses; it's a process that requires training and long-term planning," she said.

She added: "Nursing was once classified as a priority profession, and we must return to that." She called for making nursing salaries more attractive to keep nurses working in government institutions. "I hope solutions will be found through talking, but I have no doubt that we will launch a professional struggle if necessary," Cohen said.

At 3.5 to 1,000 Israel's doctors-to-residents ratio is average for the OECD and higher than that of the United States (2.41 per thousand ) and the United Kingdom (2.71 ), but it fell by 9 percent between 2000 and 2010 and lags behind Germany (3.64 ) and Austria (4.77 ). "The percentage of physicians under the age of 45 is dropping, from 38 percent in 2000 to 27 percent at the end of 2010," the report's authors wrote.

In the past two days Rambam, Bnei Zion and Carmel medical centers, all in Haifa, reported heavy traffic and unusually long waits in their emergency rooms as a result.

According to Health Ministry figures occupancy in these hospitals' internal medicine wards reached 144 percent at Rambam and 105 percent and 107 percent, respectively, at Carmel and Bnei Zion. Officials stressed that the overcrowding was "localized and temporary." Some patients are being transferred to other hospitals in the north.

"Not much more is needed for us to collapse," Rambam deputy director Dr. Michael Halberthal said on Tuesday. "We're the only tertiary hospital in the north. Patients will have to wait for two or three days until there is space for them. We know the overcrowding is terrible, and our staff is also under great pressure. The head nurse in emergency has asked to be relived of her position," Halberthal said.

"The situation isn't new," Carmel deputy director Eldad Berkovits told Haaretz on Tuesday. "Yesterday things reached a new low. All the Haifa hospital directors held a conference call with the Health Ministry and we all realized that something is happening here, it's not a random occurrence. We're trying to divert some of the overload to more distant hospitals such as the one in Nahariya but that's not a real solution. The solution must be adding personnel and beds and buildings," Berkovits said.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: שיעור האחיות בישראל - מהנמוכים במערב