Senior officials of the Health and Finance ministries and representatives of doctors and nurses unions held urgent discussions on Wednesday night about ways to relieve overcrowding and lack of staff in the hospitals, stemming from talks that had begun that afternoon in the Knesset.

The Health Ministry said that it had set up a situation room for professional teams to help the hospitals cope with the high occupancy rate.

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The nurses union launched a policy this week of refusing to admit patients to internal medicine and other crucial departments with over 100 percent occupancy or if they would be kept in hospital corridors. Some of the “excess patients” are being transferred to geriatric hospitals. The ministry is examining the possibility of opening community health fund clinics for longer hours to ease the burden on emergency rooms.

Nurses union head Ilana Cohen said they are not striking but working normally.

The sanctions are the result of their refusal to work under excessively high occupancy rates, she said. Cohen said that because of the bed shortage, men are lying in proximity to women, and they have no privacy when urinating and defecating. Late Wednesday night, the nurses ended the sanctions after reaching an agreement that 190 more nurses will be employed in intensive care departments and departments with patients on life support.

Earlier in the day, Kadima MK Rachel Adatto, who is a gynecologist by training, told the Knesset Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee that the annual addition of 200 hospital beds, which is being discussed, “is a drop in the ocean, considering the shortfall of some 2,000 beds in the system. There are too few intensive care, internal medicine and obstetrics beds.

“Where is the Treasury’s compassion for patients who are lying in beds in the corridors? Ventilated patients in the corridors means a death sentence for them.

This crisis is severe and continuing. It’s wrong to wait until the summer to say the problems have passed. The government must find solutions today,” Adatto said.

The committee meeting, chaired by Likud MK Haim Katz, was tense. He called on the Finance Ministry to conduct fair negotiations with the nurses.

“They must show compassion and sensitivity and not think only about money,” Katz said. “The nurses have to understand too that it’s impossible to limit patient admission, even if they have to lie in corridors. I recommend that they reduce the sanctions if they see the Treasury is willing to find a true solution.”

Treasury budgets division deputy director Moshe Barsmantov said he was willing to return to negotiations with the nurses immediately.

“The gaps can be bridged,” he said.

Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman said a solution cannot be reached instantly.

“We have to close the gaps of a decade. We have already reached an agreement to add 1,000 beds in the next six years. Ministry officials will decide where the beds will go, with stress on the periphery and emergency rooms, and more nurses and doctors to staff them.”

Health Ministry director-general Dr.

Ronni Gamzu said there may be failures in the hospitals regarding release of patients.

“I intend to issue instructions, maybe even today, on limitations of hospital occupancies and ask hospital directors to use their judgement in discharging patients,” Gamzu said. “I wasn’t able to make this decision before.”

Dr. Ze’ev Kaplan of the Israel Medical Association said that adding 1,000 beds in six years will not mean expanding the hospital system but will just be keeping up with today’s needs.

“We keep declining in the number of per capita beds. The Treasury has extra reserves in its budget,” Kaplan said.

Kadima MK Meir Sheetrit announced that he has initiated a bill to eliminate red tape for patients, who would no longer have to run to their health funds to bring their #17 referral forms to the hospital to ensure that the insurer will cover expenses. Instead, authorization will have to be transferred electronically.

He couldn’t understand why some coalition members opposed his bill. “Anyone who is against is hurting the general public,” he charged.

Litzman said that the aim of the bill is “correct and justified, and the ministry is working toward such a solution by 2012, but I oppose it being a piece of legislation.”

The bill was rejected in a preliminary vote of 43-20.

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