As the nurses’ sanctions continued Wednesday on its 17th day, health experts worried that if it continues for much longer, not only will tens of thousands of operations and other medical procedures be postponed, but outbreaks of diseases could occur.

Since the sanctions began by 28,000 nurses in hospitals and community health facilities, vaccinations of infants, schoolchildren and adults have not been carried out. The Israel Pediatrics Society warned that thousands of babies and toddler have not received shots against whooping cough, chicken pox, measles, hepatitis A and B, polio, diphtheria, tetanus and other diseases. In addition, the Health Ministry’s district health offices have also not given travellers vaccinations.

As a result, those who can afford it have been going privately for vaccinations, but those who cannot have gone without. Some hospital patients or their families have hired private nurses to take care of them in the public hospitals -- or gone to private hospitals where nurses do not strike.

The National Labor Court has not issued restraining orders, as the Treasury -- at least for now -- has cancelled its original request for them after the court sided with the nurses, who argued that the Treasury was "not negotiating seriously."

The Health Ministry has not issued any official statements about dangers to public health since the sanctions over a new nurses’ wage contract began, except one by Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman saying that no agreement can be reached until after the Knesset elections. The ministry has left the whole labor dispute to the Treasury to negotiate and make statements to the public.

Although two days ago, there was optimism both at the Treasury and the Israel Nursing Association that an agreement was near on a 12 percent wage increase -- in addition to hikes that would be made for all public workers. But it quickly evaporated, and the sides disagreed on the length of the ageement (three to five years) and whether all nurses would receive the same increase or some -- those in hospitals, the periphery or in specialties with inadequate manpower) would receive pay rises differentially.

On Wednesday, union chief Ilana Cohen said that there had been no progress and that commitments made by the Treasury have been quickly rescinded. She continued that the nurses were seeking not only higher salaries but also conditions that would attract more to the profession to improve the quality of care for patients.

Cohen added that the nurses were willing to apply sanctions even beyond the January 22 elections if necessary. In "normal" conditions, hospitals are overcrowded and medical facilities stretched beyond capacity because of complications of the flu.

The school health service, which was privatized by the Treasury years ago except when public health nurses were re-hired in the south, is paralyzed; the private contractors who provide the services have been criticized by the State Comptroller over the past few years for not doing all they were hired to do in "normal" times.

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