The good news is that 112 public hospital beds were added to the public health system in 2011. The bad news is that the per-capita rate has declined, and Israel still trails far behind the per capita average of the other OECD countries.

“This was the first year that the number of beds actually increased,” Prof.
Arnon Afek, the new head of the Health Ministry’s Medical Authority, said. The figures do not refer to actual patient beds in the wards or even those paid for by the ministry, but to budgeted, approved beds in the public hospitals, which may be owned by the government, the health funds or voluntary organizations.

The rate of general hospital beds per 1,000 Israeli residents has dropped however to 1.88, compared to 2.09 at the end of 2005.

A ministry report on hospitalization, prepared by its information department and released for publication on Tuesday, also showed that the number of psychiatric hospital beds continued to decline to 0.44 per 1,000 residents, compared to 0.75 in 2005. But this is not considered a negative sign, as psychiatric patients have increasingly been living in the community, at home or in hostels, receiving medications and psychotherapy, rather than living out their lives at inpatient mental health centers.

The rate of geriatric beds is also declining, which is not a positive sign, while beds at rehabilitation institutions remained stable, but did not increase – which is also problematic, given the aging population.

“Yet the ministry has increased the number of intensive care beds for children by 11 and infants by 34,” Afek said. “This is a trend in the health system.”

The shortage of intensive care beds is a problem throughout the year and especially in the winter, when elderly people with chronic illnesses suffer life-threatening flu complications.

Afek said that the addition of beds are the result of the efforts of ministry director- general Prof. Ronni Gamzu and Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, and while this is too little and too late, it is a step in the right direction and an improvement.

He conceded that some hospitals have actually closed units and reduced departments because they did not have enough medical specialists, nurses and other professionals to run them.

“But there is an increase of medical students, with 700 new ones around the country, and more nurses due to scholarships, career changes from academics to specially trained nurses and more nursing schools. It takes time,” Afek said.

The report also found that operating theater beds increased in 2011 by one, dialysis patient beds by 12, delivery room beds by 17 and recovery room beds by 18 (since 2009), while the number of budgeted places for newborns declined by six. There are 62 more beds for rehabilitating alcoholics, compared to 2007, for a total of 916.

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