Nurses in Israel Begin Nationwide Strike to Protest Violence Against Medical Staff

Hospitals operating on Sabbath mode and clinics providing only essential services as nurses demand the government protect them

Nurses during previous protest outside the Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem, July 4, 2018.
Emil Salman

Nurses launched an open-ended general strike Tuesday morning in hospitals and clinics in Israel’s public health system. The National Association of Nurses in Israel said it called the strike in response to “the government’s unwillingness to deal with the serious violence in the health system” directed at medical staff. In addition, the government has yet to implement the recommendations of a committee established to eradicate such violence, which were accepted five months ago, said the union.

The Health Ministry said they are presently working intensively on the process of implementing the recommendations.

The strike began at 7 A.M. and included public hospitals and community clinics, including well-baby clinics. Nurses in hospitals are working in the same framework as on the Sabbath, including in the operating rooms. Nursing staff is not working at all in the outpatient clinics and other outpatient units in the hospitals. Intensive care, neonatal care, maternity, oncology, dialysis and fertility wards and clinics are still operating – but with reduced staffing.

Nurses in HMO clinics are also on strike and only essential and limited services are being provided, such as home visits, fertility, gastrointestinal and oncology treatments, insulin provision and outpatient services.

Public health service infirmaries and well-baby clinics are also providing very limited services. Only one well-baby clinic in each city is open to provide services for premature infants and women with high-risk pregnancies.

Health Ministry district health offices are providing only emergency services, such as in suspected cases of rabies, meningitis or infectious diseases. They are also not providing inoculations for people travelling overseas.

Ilana Cohen, the chairwoman of the nurses association, said the strike will continue until immediate steps are taken to solve the unbearable load on nurses and to protect the medical staff.

Union representatives met on Monday with the director general of the Health Ministry, Moshe Bar Siman Tov, in an attempt to prevent the strike.

Cohen said it is unacceptable that nurses go to work and end up in the emergency room as patients as a result of violence against the medical staff. The government cannot stand on the sidelines as an observer while the health system turns into a war zone and the nurses and other medical staff are targets, she said.

The Health Ministry said on Monday in response to questions from Haaretz: “The conclusions of the committee [on violence in the health system] are being implemented and the national plan for dealing with violence has been fully integrated into the ministry’s work plan, and they will be implemented completely.”

“A large part of the recommendations, for example expanding the deployment of police officers in emergency rooms, conducting training, oversight and follow up in the involvement of senior management are being implemented in some of the hospitals,” said the Health Ministry. Specific budgets have been allocated for all the recommendations with compulsory schedules for implementation, said the ministry.

In December 2017, a a Health Ministry committee submitted its report with recommendations on how to end violence against medical staff and employees in the health system. The committee, headed by Prof. Shlomo Mor Yosef, was appointed following the murder of a nurse, Tova Kararo, by a patient at Clalit Health Services clinic in Holon in March 2017.

Every year, some 3,500 cases of violence against medical staff are reported, according to the committee. Twenty percent of the cases include physical violence and the rest involve verbal violence. Only 11 percent of the cases were reported to the police, and not all of them result in charges and convictions.

The report stated that despite a number of actions taken over the years, including plans to prevent such violence, attacks on medical staff remain serious and worrying events, which are increasing both in number and in the severity of the violence.

The Brookdale Institute and the Clalit Health Services published research in the past that drew similar conclusions, and found that 75 percent of the medical staff in clinics had reported suffering from violence.

Five months ago, Bar Siman Tov issued a directive on preventing violence and handling such incidents, and ordered the implementation of the committee’s recommendations. They included establishing a supervisory committee on the problem of violence, implementing a national program to prevent such violence and creating a national computerized system for reporting and collecting data on such incidents and for investigating them. Legislation is also to be advanced to increase the punishment for violent attacks on medical staff.

At the beginning of July, nurses called a one-day nationwide strike after a patient stabbed and injured a nurse at Shmuel Harofeh Hospital in Be’er Yaakov .