The serious shortage of nurses in neonatal intensive care and premature baby units in hospitals causes too many infants to die, according to evidence heard in the Knesset Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee on Tuesday, which was International Premature Baby Day.At the same time, five hospitals – Emek, Carmel, Meir, Poriya and Sheba Medical Centers – were praised for the high level of their premature-baby facilities.Dr. Shmuel Tsangen, head of the neonatal department at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, told the committee that in other countries, for every one or two ventilated “premies,” there is one specially trained nurse. In Israel, the ratio is one nurse per four to eight premies. He added that the shortage of nursing manpower clearly causes deaths of infants who could otherwise survive.Dr. Arye Simmonds, head of the neonatal unit at Laniado Medical Center in Netanya, agreed. “Infections in Israel premie units are twice to four times more common than abroad, even though the situation here has improved in recent years.Health Ministry deputy director-general Prof. Arnon Afek said that after the five above-mentioned hospitals received “excellent” grades.The Italian and English Hospitals, Bnai Zion, Wolfson, Kaplan, Rambam, Shaare Zedek and Schneider received “good” ratings. The ministry noted that since January, the quality of neonatal units in Nazareth’s Holy Family Hospital and Saint Vincent’s Hospital, as well as in Sheba, Shaare Zedek and Poriya Medical Centers was greatly improved (Shaare Zedek has since opened its New Generation Building with totally new, high-quality facilities).“Basic” ratings were given to Tel Aviv Sourasky, El Makassed, Assaf Harofe, Bikur Holim, Barzilai, Hillel Yaffe, Red Crescent, Hadassah Mount Scopus, Ziv, Laniado, Ma’ayanei Hayeshua, Nahariya, Soroka, Hadassah Ein-Kerem and the French Hospital. Afek said there was a 43% reduction in infections in premature baby units this year compared to 2014, and that 50 additional nursing job slots were added, along with 14 new residents learning the neonatology specialty. There are 28 neonatal units and 142 active neonatologists working in the hospitals.This is not enough manpower, he said.MK Orly Levy-Abecassis, who initiated the discussion, stressed the need to reinforce neonatal units against missile and other attacks so that tiny newborns not be exposed to infections because they have to be moved to safer quarters.During rocket and missile attacks, parents disconnect the babies from their wires and tubes and run for safety. She also demanded that the health funds be required to hire neonatololgists in their community clinics and that exposure of premies to pathogens be minimized once they are brought home and need follow-up.The ministry decided to allocate NIS 80 million over four years to upgrade neonatal units around the country. Former health minister MK Yael German said that the quality of medicine in Israel is very high “except when it comes to premature infants. We are not in a good position compared to other developed countries,” she insisted.The committee called on the ministry to deal with the shortage of specialized neonatal nurses and noted the fact that it does not fund professional training at its expense.Instead, the nurses pay for this.A mother’s milk bank that is specially needed by mothers of premature babies will finally be created, the ministry said. A public tender has been issued, and funding for it has been readied.