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Doctors threaten strike if Finance Ministry defunds new medical positions

CM 29/04/2021 2

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Senior officials of Israel’s health system are threatening a strike if the Finance Ministry does not agree to continue funding 600 doctors and 1,600 nurses who were hired during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Finance and Health ministries committed to fund the positions until the end of June and the Health Ministry said it is pushing to keep those positions but the Finance Ministry said it was “discussing alternatives.”
“The epidemic is fading, the cameras and journalists have left the hospitals, and finance officials are attacking the health of Israeli citizens,” charged Israel Medical Association president, Dr. Zeev Feldman.
“Under the auspices of political chaos, finance officials are trying to erase 600 doctors who went to work in the starving public health system during the coronavirus pandemic, and the consequence will have a negative impact on the health of Israeli citizens to the point of harming human life.”
The positions were added last July, four months into the crisis, to what was considered an already underfunded and starved health system.
Israel has been neglecting its health system since the 1970s and the situation has grown increasingly worse since that time, according to Prof. Dan Ben-David, an economist at Tel Aviv University who is president of the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research.
Israel went into the coronavirus crisis with the highest hospital occupancy rate of any Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member country.

In terms of the number of physicians per capita, Israel is roughly close to the OECD average, but it has 10 times more physicians aged over 75. Israel has one of the worst nurse-to-population ratios, with five nurses per 1,000 people – significantly lower than the OECD average of 8.8.
Once the new positions were approved by the Finance and Health ministries, the hospitals and health funds started recruiting and training staff to work with the most severe patients.
“As of today, the Finance Ministry is saying they are not going to fund them anymore,” explained Hadassah-University Medical Center head Prof. Zeev Rotstein. “There is going to be a national fight.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the country, Israel quickly shut down in order to ensure that hospitals did not reach capacity too quickly. Without enough intensive care unit beds or staff to serve patients on respirators, there was fear that Israel would suffer like Italy with doctors forced to choose who would live and who would die.
“They learned nothing,” Dr. Arnon Afek, deputy director-general of Sheba Medical Center, said of the Finance Ministry. “They spent billions of shekels on the health system once we had this challenge of coronavirus and they poured incredible funds into useless respiratory machines and infrastructure that will not be needed, except in a similar emergency situation, instead of investing in what can be used day to day.”
“It is almost May and there is no information about what is going to happen at the end of June,” Afek continued. “When do they plan to inform us?”
He said anything short of immediately agreeing to fund the positions was “scandalous behavior” and that “I believe it will end up in a strike.”
But the Finance Ministry told The Jerusalem Post that it was always understood that the doctors and nurses were recruited to manage the coronavirus pandemic.
“Funding for these positions came from sources outside the regular budget, which was earmarked for coronavirus,” the ministry said. “The Health and Finance ministries are discussing the various alternatives ahead of formal budgetary discussions that will take place in the near future.”
The Health Ministry will fight to keep those jobs, head of Public Health Services Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis told the Post.
She said that new public health nurses have been used in Tipat Halav children’s medical services as well as to help carry out epidemiological investigations of coronavirus patients, and that doctors were employed in internal medicine and emergency wards, among other places.
“These roles are desperately needed on a continuous basis,” she said. “I cannot imagine pulling them back and letting the system starve again.”

Source: Jerusalem Post

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