Aside from Mexico, Israel has the lowest rate of general hospital beds per population in the 28 Western OECD countries, according to a document prepared by the Knesset research and information center for the Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee session initiated by MK Haim Oron.
There are only 1.98 hospital beds per 1,000 residents, compared to 8.2 in Japan and 5.7 in Germany, the report states. In Israel, according to the report, beds are not distributed in an equitable way. In the Tel Aviv and Haifa districts, there are 2.5 beds per 1,000 residents, compared to just 1.5 beds in the northern and southern districts. The total number of beds in the general hospitals is 14,582, and no new public hospitals have been built in decades.
According to the report, written by Shelly Levy under the supervision of Sharon Sofer, internal medicine departments - which treat the oldest and sickest patients - are filled to 113 percent capacity. Two-thirds of all ventilated patients in general hospitals are being treated in ordinary wards rather than in intensive care units with special equipment, more nurses and more active supervision. Thirty-five percent of the patients - excluding those in obstetrics departments - are aged 65 and over, with 22% over the age of 75.
Nearly half of all general hospital beds are in government-owned hospitals; the rest are in health fund hospitals or institutions owned by voluntary organizations. Only one hospital has received the go-ahead for construction - a medical center in Ashdod.
The average period of hospitalization is only four days, thus some patients are discharged before they are ready, and the average bed accommodates 89 patients within a year due to the "hot bed" policy. In Japan, the average patient spends over 19 days in the hospital, followed by 8.2 days in Switzerland and 7.5 in Britain. Mexico, with an average of 3.9 days, is the shortest besides Israel's.
The Health Ministry's plans launched in 1995 for expanding the number of hospital beds by 2,826 in 2000 has been ignored due to Treasury opposition. One thousand of these beds were intended to meet urgent needs by 2000, with the rest to be added to meet future needs due to the growth and aging of the population.
The Health Ministry updated their plan in 2005 to add 3,646 beds by 2015 and another 2,500 by 2025. This does not mean just buying beds but also allocating funds to expand existing hospitals or construct new ones, as well as to train and hire new doctors, nurses and other staffers to fill job slots. However, the Knesset report said that no action has been taken to implement this plan.
At present, the average occupancy rate in the 25 general hospitals is 101%. Only three medical centers have occupancy rates lower than 95%. If average occupancy rates were lowered to 90%, an additional 1,500 beds would be needed.
The Treasury has consistently argued that fewer treatments need be performed on an inpatient basis, thus there is no need to add beds, but medical experts deny this.
Stay on top of the news - get the Jerusalem Post headlines direct to your inbox!