Israeli Nurses End One-day Strike After Deal Reached With Finance Ministry

2,000 new positions added, as negotiations continue over improved working conditions that have worsened amid the coronavirus crisis

Ido Efrati
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A nurse in Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Jerusalem, March 2020.
A nurse in Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Jerusalem, March 2020. Credit: Emil Salman
Ido Efrati

Nurses will return to work Tuesday morning, ending a one-day strike, Finance Minister Yisrael Katz and a representative of the National Association of Nurses announced Monday night.

They agreed on opening 2,000 new nursing positions to relieve personnel shortages. Other demands presented by the nurses will be discusses by a joint team to be set up “immediately,” according to a statement issued by the parties involved.

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The nurses' union strike began at 7 A.M. Monday over a staff shortage and poor working conditions, which have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, after failing to reach an agreement with the Finance Ministry. Negotiations between the nurses' union and Finance Ministry representatives broke down on Sunday.  

Many health services operated at a weekend capacity during the strike, canceling afternoon surgeries barring urgent operations and offering health services on a limited basis. Coronavirus testing and treatment continued as usual.

"We have no choice but to take matters into our own hands and prevent a health system collapse this coming winter," the chairwoman of the nurses' union, Ilana Cohen, wrote. 

“In addition to the severe manpower shortage, some 1,000 nurses have entered quarantine and 40 wards designated to treat coronavirus patients have been manned by nurses who were taken from other wards,” said Cohen last week. “It is our obligation to give Israel’s citizens the appropriate treatment, and it is our right to do so while having the needed manpower.”

Last week, Cohen wrote a letter to the heads of the hospitals, HMOs and the Health Ministry saying that starting next week nurses will work on an emergency basis “out of national responsibility and in order to stop the collapse of the nursing system and save lives.”

“The coronavirus outbreak solidified and worsened the enormous shortage in manpower and resources” that the health system suffered from even before the crisis, Cohen wrote. But the Health Ministry has “continued to place the burden of hundreds of regulations and tasks on the shoulders of the nurses – and on the backs of the patients.” Without an immediate addition of hundreds of new nursing positions, dealing with the coronavirus outbreak will be “an impossible mission,” Cohen added.

At a meeting held on Sunday between representatives of the Israeli Nurses’ Association and representatives of the Finance Ministry, the ministry proposed an addition of one thousand new positions, in addition to the 600 positions approved for the period of March until the end of 2021. The nurses’ union demanded a longer-term commitment, beyond 2021, in order to set up the additional positions and make them permanent.

The Finance Ministry, on the other hand, said that in view of the fact that the ministry is currently operating without an approved budget, it is not possible to guarantee the added positions beyond 2021 at this point. . According to sources in the ministry, the urgent need for additional nursing positions due to the coronavirus crisis is understandable, and indeed an immediate solution of adding more positions is being proposed, but at this stage only for the next year and a half.

The workload in hospital wards has increased over the past few weeks due to the rising number of staff members who had to be quarantined after coming into contact with a confirmed or suspected coronavirus patient. Out of the 2,908 staff members who are in isolation as of Saturday night, 813 are nurses and 513 are doctors.  

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