All non-emergency surgery around the country will be delayed on Sunday until 9 a.m. as staff meetings are held to protest the severe shortage of anesthesiologists. That day, all anesthesiology department heads will meet at Sheba Medical Center to discuss the problem and find ways to ensure the safety of operations given the inadequate number of anesthesiologists. Prof. Azriel Perl, chairman of the Israel Anesthesiology Society, said Thursday: "The shortage of manpower causes increasingly serious bottlenecks as the number of procedures requiring anesthesia grows. Today we already are overworked and are unable to meet the needs of patients. Standards are gradually being reduced for the safety of patients in and outside surgical theaters." If measures are not taken immediately to attract additional doctors into the specialty, the crisis will worsen and the queue for anesthesiology services - including of women during delivery - will lengthen and the quality of service will decline, Perl added. Last month, Perl sent a letter to Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri and director-general Prof. Avi Yisraeli on the trend of fewer anesthesiologists. But the ministry has not announced any plans to deal with the problem. The society will hold a "Week for Awareness of the Anesthesiology Profession" between May 13 and 18, in which specialists will explain their problems to the public. The Health Ministry commented that there was "no justification" for the anesthesiologists' plans to disrupt work on Sunday. The issues are already in "advanced discussions" with the Finance Ministry and Civil Service Commission, and disruptions before these talks are concluded can only be harmful, it said. "The anesthesiologist problem must be solved," said ministry director-general Prof. Avi Yisraeli, "but it must not be done at the expense of patients."