Israel's Nurses Go on Strike Over Staff Shortage After Failed Negotiations With Treasury

Nurses demand hundreds of new positions to improve 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

The National Association of Nurses went on strike on Monday over staff shortage and poor working conditions, which have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, after failing to reach an agreement with the Finance Ministry.

The strike went into effect on Monday at 7 A.M. after the nurses' negotiations with Finance Ministry representatives broke down on Sunday.  

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Operating rooms will work similarly to the way they do on weekends, and afternoon surgeries will be canceled – except for urgent operations approved by the committee for exceptions.

Nursing staff will work according to weekend staffing levels in all inpatient wards. Intensive care departments will have a limited nursing staff, as will neonatal intensive care units, maternity rooms, dialysis, oncology and fertility departments. But coronavirus testing and treatment will continue with full staffing.

The government’s public health services will operate on a limited basis and only in urgent cases. Community HMOs will provide only the following services: Home treatments, insulin injections, fertility treatments, oncology and gastroenterology treatments and outpatient services. 

"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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