Since the beginning of this year 1,322 incidents of violence against medical personnel in Israeli medical institutions have been reported to the Health Ministry. These incidents include physical and verbal abuse, and property damage. The affected personnel included doctors (26 percent), nursing staff (25 percent) and security staff (35 percent). Of the reports filed with the ministry, 375 resulted in complaints to the police.
These figures are only part of the problem described on Monday by Reuven Keren, head of the Health Ministry's security division. Keren was addressing participants in a conference on violence in the health system, organized by the Israel Management Center, at Kfar HaMaccabiah in Ramat Gan. Keren proposed a series of steps for the Health Ministry to implement aimed at reducing this phenomenon, but admitted how hard this task is. "It is easier to develop responses to suicide bombers, who will most likely march in the hospital's front door, than to anticipate violence that cannot be detected at the hospital's entrance," he noted.
Health Minister Yacov Ben Yizri told the conference that violence against doctors is like organized crime - both phenomena are gaining momentum. "I call on the justice system and the police to show zero tolerance," said Ben Yizri, "and to stiffen punishments, as an example and a deterrent."
Dr. Marius Guy, deputy director of the urology department at Kaplan hospital in Rehovot, told conference participants about an incident in which a patient stabbed him violently with a screwdriver, causing a serious injuries that required extensive treatment. The patient, Ariel Shmilov, 64, was subsequently charged with attempted murder. "We were motivated to study medicine by an internal urge to help people," said Guy, "and we are happy when we successfully resuscitate someone or remove a tumor. I became a celebrity against my will, but I represent 27,000 doctors in this struggle against violence. After a long hospitalization at Sheba [Medical Center], I am back on my feet, without a wheelchair, and am undergoing physiotherapy at Kaplan."
Guy related that despite his efforts to exercise and refresh his skills so that he can resume his surgical work, many of his patients are apprehensive. "I have a number of candidates awaiting operations," he said, "but each of them has asked to be second or third in line, just to be sure."
Guy called for the establishment of a special police unit in every Israeli hospital, echoing a sentiment expressed in many of the letters he received during his recuperation. Dr. Yoram Blachar, president of the Israel Medical Association (IMA), spoke about the February 2007 shooting murder of Professor David Niv, director of the pain clinic at Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital. Blachar recalled that shortly after that tragedy he had said he hoped it had not been perpetrated by a disgruntled patient bent on settling an account with the doctor.
Yesterday the High Court of Justice was due to hear a petition filed by the IMA against the Health Ministry on the grounds that the ministry is not fulfilling its duty to protect doctors from rising violence inside medical institutions, and is not implementing its own guidelines from 2000. In preparation for that hearing, the ministry this week filed its defense to the petition. The ministry rejected the IMA's contention and enumerated a list of steps it has taken to address the problem.