At an emergency meeting convened by heads of the Israel Medical Association on Monday, they demanded that the number of hospital intensive care units be doubled.

IMA chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman warned Prime Minister and Health Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that action must be taken immediately, because seriously ill patients were not getting optimal treatment; instead, they were being treated in regular departments with lessadvanced equipment and fewer nurses and doctors, he said.

Only 2 percent of hospital beds in Israel are in intensive care, compared to 5% in Europe and 10% in the US – and that does not take into account the shortage of general hospital beds, said Eidelman.

Israel is rated lowest in the supply of intensive care units in the OECD, which Israel joined last year, he added.

Asked to comment, the Health Ministry said that in the last few months, it had reached an agreement with the Treasury to increase the number of hospitals beds by 1,000 in the next six years, with a quarter of them intensive care beds.

“All that is left is to implement the agreements while ensuring balance in the health system and the improvement in patient care,” the spokeswoman said.

Dr. Eran Segal, chairman of the Israel Society for General Intensive Care, said that every day, doctors were forced to make decisions related to patients who needed intensive care but couldn’t get it due to the shortages.

“When a patient requires intensive care and is put in a regular ward, with one nurse for every 12 patients instead of one per two patients, the mortality rate will be higher and the chances for successful treatment lower,” said Segal.

He added that this week, 800 patients were attached to respirators in the country’s hospitals, but only 300 were in intensive care units.

“Whoever thinks that treating the remaining 500 in regular departments is acceptable, is wrong and misleads the public,” he said. “It will clearly cost lives.”

According to Dr. Yoram Klein, chairman of the Israel Trauma Society, the next mass catastrophe in Israel is likely not to be biological or radioactive, but to involve trauma, and the hospitals will be unable to cope.

Dr. Motti Klein, head of intensive care at Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba, said the real mass catastrophe was the lack of suitable facilities thanks to the lack of Treasury funding.

At Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tikva, there are only two physician specialists in pediatric intensive care, and one is about to retire; in Nahariya, there is only one; north of Hadera, there are just three. At Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, the pediatric intensive care unit was shut down. At Sheba and Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Centers, only half the number of needed specialists are working.

“The Health Ministry clicks its tongue and looks heavenward,” said Dr. Elhanan Nahum, chairman of the Israel Society for Pediatric Intensive Care.

“There is plenty of money for roads that lead nowhere or funding for yeshiva students,” he went on. “If we don’t solve this problem now, we won’t meet any European or American standard. Those who really pay the price are children.”

In the event of a major earthquake, the hospitals will be woefully unprepared to treat the seriously injured, declared Col. Dr. Ariel Bar of the Home Front Command.

Another physician at the Ramat Gan meeting who asked to remain anonymous said that “decision-makers tell us to ‘do the best medicine with the lowest budget,’ and if necessary, people will die. But they must die quietly, without anybody knowing that we are killing the patients quietly. It is, in effect, euthanasia!”

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