Israel's Nurses Go on Nationwide Strike Over Labor Shortages

All health care facilities to operate on an emergency basis only during the strike

The nurses demonstrate in front of the Health Ministry in Jerusalem, July 22, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

Nurses throughout the country have called for a full strike on the Israel’s public health care system on Tuesday over severe labor shortages. Hospitals, and HMO clinics will only operate on an emergency basis.

The strike was called as part of an ongoing labor dispute over the past few months. Nurses are protesting over inadequate staffing which in turn makes it hard to meet new accreditation standards from the Health Ministry.

A meeting on Monday night between the nurses union and the Director General of the Health Ministry, Moshe Bar Siman Tov, blew up and no agreement was reached. Dozens of nurses demonstrated outside the ministry in Jerusalem during the meeting.

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During the strike, hospital operating rooms will only take emergency cases, all hospital wards – including intensive care, oncology, dialysis, fertility, maternity and neonatal – will work with a reduced nursing staff. This applies to geriatric and psychiatric hospitals as well. All hospitals will have a nursing staff ready for emergencies, as well as a committee to decide on providing treatment in exceptional cases.

HMO clinics will also operate on an emergency basis only and will provide limited services, including home visits, insulin injections, fertility treatments, oncology treatments, dialysis and certain gastroenterology treatments. One family health center for children will remain open in every city to provide care for women with high-risk pregnancies. School health services will be also on strike and no vaccinations will be given in schools, except for urgent cases. The clinics in Health Ministry offices that provide vaccinations needed for certain foreign travel will be closed.

In May, the Nurses Association declared an official labor dispute after chairwoman Ilana Cohen informed Ben Siman Tov that they would not cooperate with the new accreditation surveys adopted by the Health Ministry. The accreditation surveys are conducted once every three years by the Joint Commission International, an organization that sets standards for ensuring medical care is safe and orderly. Nurses say the accreditation process imposes a heavy workload – which comes at the expense of treating patients, and in many cases is nothing more than a charade.

“Israeli nurses are the most important human resource for the stability and resiliency of the public health system. Without us, proper medical treatment cannot be provided to the citizens of Israel,” the nurses association said. “That is why preserving the status, working conditions, work environment and professionality of the nurses in Israel is a supreme national interest of Israel and its citizens. It seems the Health Ministry and treasury have forgotten that the era of slavery has ended.”

The Health Ministry said it recognizes and respects the work of the nurses, who are at the heart of the health system and public service. The ministry added that it is working with all the relevant authorities to reduce the workload and find solutions – in addition to adding over 300 positions for nurses recently. “At the same time, we all have an obligation and responsibility to patients and carrying out all of the tasks and requirements needed for medical treatment of the necessary standard. There will be no flexibility on the lifesaving medical standards on the part of the ministry.”