Israeli Hospitals Unprepared for National Disaster, Doctors Warn

The lack of sufficient hospital beds will pose problems when medical centers are faced with having to treat a large influx of patients.

Israel's hospitals are ill-equipped to handle an influx of patients in the event of a national disaster, a senior doctor warned yesterday.

Dr. Moti Klein, who heads the intensive care unit at Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva, said the lack of sufficient hospital beds will pose problems in treating casualties.

Hospital - Nir Keidar
Nir Keidar

"If there is a disaster in Be'er Sheva, patients in intensive care wards across the country will be evicted and left to die in other units where it is not possible to take care of them," Klein said. "This will be done just to absorb the patients that were injured in the disaster."

"If one of the government's deputy ministers or a relative will need intensive care, a place will be found for that person while another patient will be forced out of the hospital in order to make room," Klein said.

Dr. Leonid Eidelman, who heads the Israel Medical Association, called on the government to immediately add more beds to intensive care units. According to the Health Ministry's hospitalization plan for 2015, an additional 300 beds must be put in place in the intensive care wards.

Eidelman is also calling for 3,000 more beds to be added to all hospital units immediately as well as an additional 5,000 beds by 2020, 500 of which would be designated for the intensive care units. The IMA is also urging the hiring of more staff in the ICUs.

The calls for additional beds come against the backdrop of labor talks between the state and doctors who work in public hospitals. The IMA has already raised the demand for more beds during the negotiations.

In addition, the Finance Ministry has reached an agreement with Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, whereby the state will subsidize an additional 950 hospital beds gradually over the next six years. The state has not added any new hospital beds over the last decade.

The IMA yesterday convened a gathering of some of Israel's top medical officials who discussed the health system's preparedness in the wake of last month's Carmel forest fire. The findings presented during the conference paint a disconcerting picture.

According to the IMA, just 2 percent of all hospital beds in Israel are reserved for intensive care patients, while the figure in Europe is 5 percent. Hospitals in the United States allocate 10 percent of total hospital beds for ICUs.

The IMA also said that Israel is ranked low among OECD countries in number of hospital beds - 1.9 beds per 1,000 citizens. Only Mexico is ranked lower.

In addition, the rate at which hospital beds are added to ICUs have gradually decreased by 1 percent in recent years while Israel's population grows at two percent annually.

Dr. Eran Segel, who heads the ICU at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, said the shortage of hospital beds complicates doctors' efforts to provide the best treatment to intensive care patients.

A Health Ministry spokesperson said in response to the IMA that there had been renewed interest in the hospitals' shortcomings.

"In recent months, the ministry and treasury have agreed on the addition of more hospital beds, a quarter of which will be allocated to intensive care units. Now we must courageously adopt these understandings while maintaining the balances within the system and improving medical care for all hospitalized patients," the ministry said.