Health Ministry Director- General Prof. Ronni Gamzu plans to shorten the time it takes medical students to become physicians.

Gamzu announced his intention Tuesday at a joint meeting of the Knesset Committee for Children’s Rights and the Knesset Control Committee, which had convened to mark World Prematurity Day.

The day’s aim is to increase awareness of premature babies and their medical needs.

The ministry director said he was working to reduce the duration of medical studies by at least six months, from the current six years plus a year’s internship.

“By every international standard, [the time it takes in Israel] is too long,” he said.

The move will annually increase the number of available doctors by 200, and these will be able to work in hospitals in addition to providing primary care in the community.

Every year, some 400 to 450 new medical licenses go to medical school graduates.

In another decade, Gamzu predicted, there will be three doctors per 1,000 Israelis.

However, he added that there remained a severe shortage of nurses – one per 1,000 residents, one of the lowest rates in the world.

Opening new nursing schools is a slow process, and the ministry is “forced to deal with every college and university to open new nursing courses,” he said.

The MKs at the meeting were informed that by the end of this year, the main parts of a bill for funding premature baby units in hospitals were likely to pass.

Under the bill – the first of its kind to deal with a single specific medical need in hospitals – hundreds of millions of shekels that the National Insurance Institute transfers to the hospitals for treatment of premature babies will go directly to the preemie units and not to the hospitals in general.

This will improve supervision and ensure that the premature baby units get more money for care, MKs said.

The speakers at the meeting credited the Israel Medical Association, which has lobbied for this move, with “forcing the Health Ministry” to take such action.

Mortality and morbidity rates among premature infants here is much higher than in other OECD countries.

The NII will be permitted to transfer up to NIS 40,000 more per premature infant to the neonatal intensive care units, depending to how long the babies have to remain there.

At present, the units receive a maximum of NIS 100,000 for infants who are treated there for months, with lower amounts for babies who need less care.

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