A shortage of surgeons, leading to overwork, is causing hospital surgical departments to collapse, the Israel Surgical Association wrote last week in a letter to Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri that was given to the press on Sunday. To induce the ministry to intervene, the association is preparing its members to "work by the book" and leave their hospitals immediately at the end of their shifts, which will cause overcrowding and postponement of nonemergency operations. Senior surgeons from around the country met recently to discuss the "crisis" that, they said, "risks the lives and safety of patients." Due to the severe shortage of surgeons and other medical professionals, elective surgery is being postponed, according to the letter signed by association chairman Prof. Michael Krausz and chairman of the committee for the status of surgeons Dr. Ricardo Alfisi. The number of medical school graduates who want to go into surgery is rapidly declining because of the low pay, long hours and difficult work, they said. A spokeswoman said the Health Ministry was "aware of the existing distress caused by the shortage of doctors. The ministry has been warning about the shortage in general and in specific fields such as anesthesiology, intensive care, pediatrics and others. The ministry initiated committees to discuss the crisis, and the subject has been raised in mediation. Ways of dealing with the problem are being examined." The association said surgeons on duty all night continued to work in the morning even though they were exhausted and sleepy. Some departments have no young doctors learning the specialty. "There is a surgical department in hospital in the center of the country where an additional manpower slot is financed by "donations" taken from senior surgeonsâ€š salaries," Krausz and Alfisi revealed. On particularly hectic days in emergency rooms and departments, the role of duty surgeons is filled by doctors from other fields, outside doctors and even interns, they continued. Residents work 10 shifts a month, including weekends, and are so tired that they sometimes are not awake enough to drive home safely. The association said that eight years ago, it presented a report to the Amorai Committee on reform in the health system warning of the continuously deteriorating situation involving surgeons, but the health authorities ignored it. "Today we are collapsing." In a few months, there won't be enough surgeons to handle even those patients who come to the emergency rooms, said the association, demanding Ben-Yizri's immediate intervention.