'Mom, I Am Sorry, I Canceled Your Operation': Seven Israeli Hospitals Strike Over Budget Cuts

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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Public hospital staff protesting in Jerusalem, on Thursday.
Public hospital staff protesting in Jerusalem, on Thursday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Seven Israeli hospitals went on strike Thursday after the government transferred less than half of the pledged funds for the first half of 2021. 

These so-called public hospitals, which are not owned by the government nor health maintenance offices, had their medical staff demonstrate outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem and provided only life-saving treatment during the period. The demonstration includes an encampment where the hospitals' directors are planning to stay for an undetermined amount of time.

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“We are opening an encampment across from the Prime Minister’s Office, and we will sit there is a solution. We will hold our Shabbat meal there, we will have our Rosh Hashanah meal there together with our families, until a solution is found,” said the director of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in the capital, Prof. Ofer Merin.

The head of the English Hospital in Nazareth, Prof. Fahed Hakim, said: “Prime Minister Bennett, Finance Minister Lieberman, Health Minister Horowitz, the change government, you need to apologize to my mother. Mom, I am sorry, I canceled your operation.”

The public hospitals' protest in Jerusalem, on ThursdayCredit: אוהד צויגנברג

According to an agreement signed between the government and these hospitals, they were supposed to receive a 630-million-shekel budget between January and June 2021. Of this money, 300 million shekels were for their routine operations and 330 million shekels were for coronavirus related work. The agreement was also supposed to provide another 55 million shekels a month between June and December. However, the government has only provided these hospitals with a total of 300 million shekels.

The hospitals say that as opposed to what the director-general of the Finance Ministry said in the Knesset Health Committee, the treasury’s budgets division announced it has no intention of continuing to allocate the funds to the hospitals starting from October.

Sources in the Health Ministry say that, by law, there are certain criteria that the hospitals need to fulfill before receiving the rest of their funding for this year. However, an agreement was recently reached between the Health Ministry and the Finance Ministry that would send a 100 million shekel ($31.2 million) deposit to the hospitals. The sources add that the remaining 230 million shekels ($71.7 million) will be transferred once the hospitals fulfill the necessary criteria. The Finance Ministry is prepared to pass on another 100 million shekels immediately, but only if the hospitals forfeit the remaining funds.

Sources in the ministry believe that the hospitals' protests were justified, and did draw the necessary attention from both the health and finance ministries, but at this point the protest mainly regards next year's budget.

Last week, the hospitals notified the Health Ministry and the Magen David Adom ambulance service that they had stopped accepting COVID-19 patients, with a demand for additional funding and staffing. Two days later, they started working in a minimized Shabbat format. These efforts have yet to lead to an agreement.

Public hospital staff protesting in Jerusalem, on Thursday. The signs read 'where is the shame?!'Credit: אוהד צויגנברג

At the beginning of the month, the hospital directors warned the Finance Ministry that they were on the brink of collapse due to lack of funding. They could not pay suppliers on time, which led to difficulties in purchasing essential medical equipment. The lack of funding also forced the halt of a great number of projects. Hospitals have made their protests more severe as a resolution still hasn't been found.

The list of the protesting hospitals includes Shaare Zedek and the two Hadassah University Hospitals in Jerusalem, Laniado Hospital in Netanya, Mayanei HaYeshua Medical Center in Bnei Brak, and three hospitals in Nazareth: The English Hospital, Holy Family (Italian) Hospital, and the Saint Vincent De Paul (French) Hospital.

As opposed to government-owned hospitals and those owned by health maintenance organizations, the public hospitals belong to various nonprofit organizations and institutions, and their status concerning public funding is different. The hospital directors have been demanding for a long time that their budgets be equal to those of other hospitals.

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