Nurses Association, Treasury Fail to Reach Agreement Over Staff Shortage Ahead of Strike

The National Association of Nurses announced last week they would go on strike starting Monday over poor working conditions, which have only deteriorated amid the coronavirus crisis

Ido Efrati
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Medical staff at the Shamir Medical Center near Tel Aviv, May 2020.
Medical staff at the Shamir Medical Center near Tel Aviv, May 2020. Credit: Moti Milrod
Ido Efrati

The National Association of Nurses and Finance Ministry representatives failed to reach an agreement in a futile attempt to prevent a nurses’ strike over staff shortage that has intensified as Israel grapples to contain its renewed coronavirus outbreak.

The National Association of Nurses announced on Wednesday they would go on strike starting Monday over poor working conditions, which have only deteriorated due to the pandemic.

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If both sides fail to reach an agreement by Sunday evening, nurses throughout the country will work in a reduced format starting 7 A.M. on Monday. Community HMOs will provide only the following services: Home treatments, insulin injections, fertility treatments, oncology and gastroenterology treatments and outpatient services. Coronavirus testing will continue as normal.

The chairwoman of the nurses' union, Ilana Cohen, and Finance Ministry Director General Keren Terner are holding the negotiations.

“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,” Cohen said. “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.

In hospitals, nurses will not work in clinics, institutes and outpatient services. 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.

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.