The Health Ministry plans to add over 2,000 hospital beds in the Jerusalem region over the next few decades, but very few are planned for East Jerusalem, where a third of the region's residents live.
The new hospital beds are part of a long-term initiative dubbed the National Master Plan 49, which is for all future health institutions throughout the country. The Health Ministry and the Planning Administration recently finished preparing an initial version of the plan, in which it sets goals for the health system for the next few decades and identifies land where it is possible to expand existing hospitals and build new ones.
By 2050, at least 10,000 hospital beds should be added to the existing 15,871. The plan sets a target of 27,000 to 35,000 over the next 30 years, based on different scenarios of disease rates and a transition to greater emphasis on home care. In the Jerusalem District, the plan includes increasing the number of hospital beds from 2,324 today to between 3,833 to 4,874 in 2050.
The majority of these beds are planned for hospitals that mostly serve the Jewish population. A large chunk, 600 to 750, are planned for a new hospital in the ultra-Orthodox town of Beit Shemesh, just west of Jerusalem. The rest are intended for the capital’s large hospitals: Shaare Zedek Medical Center and the two Hadassah Medical Centers in Ein Karem and Mount Scopus. Each will add hundreds of new beds.
The plan's documents, which Haaretz has obtained, do not include any new beds in the main hospitals in East Jerusalem: Makassed Hospital, Saint Joseph’s Hospital and the Red Crescent Hospital. The Saint John Eye Hospital and the Al Quds maternity hospital are not included in the plan either.
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Ninety-five new beds have been allocated for Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem, but most patients there are residents of the Palestinian Authority and the Gaza Strip. Augusta Victoria serves as a center for cancer treatments for residents of the PA, and Israeli HMOs do not refer patients to it. A health official in East Jerusalem said the plan to add hospital beds to Augusta Victoria was unrelated to Master Plan 49 – and for now there is no budget for it.
Residents of East Jerusalem are known to receive inferior medical services compared to their neighbors in the western part of the city. A senior Jerusalem health official harshly criticized the plan for ignoring East Jerusalem: “Even today, the gap in terms of medical accessibility between east and west and between Arabs and Jews is insufferable.”
“Now, not only are they slowly increasing this gap, they are simply ignoring the eastern part of the city. I don’t understand how they dare to submit such a document. The plan does not invest a single shekel in East Jerusalem," said the health official. "If you don't want it to become part of the Palestinian Authority in another 20 years, then say so, but as long as the opinion is that it is part of the State of Israel, how is it possible to add hospital beds to every hospital in Israel and not to provide some for the 350,00 Palestinians in the eastern part of the city?“
A senior medical official in East Jerusalem said that Hadassah and Shaare Zedek do serve the Palestinian public, but many feel uncomfortable there. “People want to be treated in a place where staff speak their language, in a place that’s convenient for them to get to, in a place that serves the food they are used to.”
The Al-Makassed Hospital, located in the A-Tur neighborhood on the Mount of Olives, is identified with the Palestinian Authority and suffers from problems of accessibility and a lack of space. Saint Joseph’s is in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and is run by a Christian group. It has good working relations with the Health Ministry and the Jerusalem municipality. The hospital opened a COVID-19 ward, and on Independence Day last year, at the request of mayor Moshe Leon, the Israeli Air Force even changed the route of its flyover salute to medical staff so it would pass over Saint Joseph’s.
About 15 percent of the women who give birth in Saint Joseph’s are Jewish. Yet, a few years ago, the hospital requested to expand into a plot next door, which is intended for public use, but the government preferred to give the plot to the Amana organization, the settlement arm of the Yesha Council of settlements, which built its headquarters there.
The Health Ministry said the plan has not yet gone down into the details of where the new hospital beds will be located, and that they "definitely view East Jerusalem as an integral part of the plan. In coming weeks, a meeting will be held with the heads of the hospitals in the eastern part of the city in order to study their needs in depth."