Health Ministry Warns of Shortage of Doctors, Nurses

A Health Ministry report released yesterday warns of a growing shortage of doctors and nurses in Israel and calls for immediate steps to increase the number of medical personnel.

Dr. Ronni Gamzu
Guy Raivitz

Among the reasons listed for the predicted dwindling of doctors and nurses are physicians' aging, doctors leaving the country or the profession, a decrease in doctors immigrating to Israel and defensive medicine practices (designed to avert the possibility of malpractice suits ).

The report presents a plan to the tune of tens of millions of shekels to increase the number of medical personnel and stave off the future shortage.

There are 25,542 doctors in Israel today - or 3.36 doctors for every 1,000 people. This ratio is higher than in industrialized nations, where the average stands at 3.1 doctors to 1,000 citizens. However, Israel's ratio is expected to fall to 3.09 doctors per 1,000 people by 2015, and to 2.69 per 1,000 people by 2025, unless urgent steps are taken, the committee that drafted the report says.

An additional 300 students must be admitted to medical programs every year in order to reach the ratio of 2.69 per 1,000 people in 2025, the report says. It also recommends reducing the number of medical programs available to foreign students, to allow more Israeli students into these programs.

The Health Ministry has also teamed up with the Immigrant Absorption Ministry to encourage Israeli doctors working overseas to return to Israel.

Another idea under consideration at the ministry is raising doctors' retirement age, in coordination with the Israel Medical Association.

The ministry's program to increase the medical personnel also includes forming a new profession in the medical world - nursing assistants that would provide basic medical care to patients.

The committee that compiled the report, headed by the Health Ministry's deputy director-general for economics and health, Dr. Tuvia Horev, also warned of a shortage in specialists, especially in the fields of anesthesiology, intensive care, preemies' medicine, child psychology, child neurology, geriatrics and rehabilitative medicine.

A future shortage is also predicted for internal medicine specialists and general surgeons - two central fields in hospital medicine, as well as in pathology and child surgery.

The report suggests residents be encouraged to enter these fields by offering them scholarships and grants, while limiting places in medical fields that have a surplus of doctors, such as orthopedics and plastic surgery.

The current rate of nurses in Israel is 5.7 per 1,000 people, lower than the industrial states' average of 8.4 nurses per 1,000 people.

"The increase in nurses is lagging behind the population growth rate," said Health Ministry director general Dr. Ronni Gamzu. "If we don't take measures we can expect a serious crisis."

In its report, the ministry proposes increasing the number of nursing programs so that by 2025 the country will see 6.5 nurses per 1,000 people.

The new profession recommended by the report - nursing assistants - will require three months' training in hospitals and nursing schools. The nurses assistants will administer basic treatments to patients such as washing, feeding and helping them off the bed.