'Emergency rooms busier than ever but no beds added'

Health Ministry says rate of general hospital emergency room visits per 1,000 residents continues to rise.

hospital beds 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
hospital beds 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The rate of general hospital emergency room visits per 1,000 residents continues to rise, but the number of beds in the units has remained static since 2003, according to the latest Health Ministry report on the subject published on Monday.
There were 0.149 beds per 1,000 residents in 2009 – the last year covered by the new report, which was compiled by Ziona Haklai and her colleagues in the ministry’s information section.
At the same time that facilities failed to expand, 2,670,000 visits were made in that year compared to 2,434,000 eight years ago. Deputy Minister Ya’acov Litzman has promised several times that emergency room facilities – especially in the periphery, where their need is most urgent – will be built and expanded in the next few years.
The statistical report, which was more than 60 pages long, was based on reports from 28 general hospitals (except for those from eastern Jerusalem) and covers the years 2007 to 2009. It was released to inform decision-makers in the health system and other parts of the government.
Of the nearly 2.7 million emergency room visits in 2009, 2.4 million did not involve women in labor, who were admitted to deliver their babies. Visits are most common among people over the age of 75. Infants up to their first birthday were second in the list, followed by young people of military age from 18 to 21. The least common group was children and young people between the ages of five and 17.
Of those who went to emergency rooms in 2009, two thirds visited once during the year, but a quarter were there two to three times and 7 percent went for treatment four times or more.
Half of the residents over the age of 75 went for help at least once that year, compared to a third of infants up to the age of one, teenagers and young adults between 15 and 24 and the middleaged between 55 and 64.
Visits are often recurrent within a short time.
In 2009, 9% of patients (excluding women for delivery) had just been there a week before and 18% within a month. Up to the age of 15, boys are 1.4 times more likely to be taken to an emergency room compared to a higher rate for women in two other ages groups: between 15 and 44 and over 70.
The busiest emergency rooms in the country, according to the report, are in Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba (the only medical center in the Negev), Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer (the largest in the country), the Rabin Medical Center (Beilinson and Hasharon campuses), and Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba. The busiest hours in emergency rooms are Sundays through Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and between 6 and 10 p.m.
In 2009, 1,361 people died in the emergency room (0.05% of all patients) due to illness, accident or other causes; this rate has not changed in recent years. The average patient who comes to an emergency room spends three hours. Of emergency room patients, a third are actually hospitalized due to their condition.
The most common diagnoses registered by emergency room physicians are pregnancy, stomach pain, fever, chest pain, trauma and fractures to the upper body and limbs, head and facial injuries, viral infections, intestinal infections, surgical problems, lung infections, back injuries and respiratory difficulties.
There is no mention in the figures of private urgent care facilities such as Terem that have significantly increased their share in recent years of patients with acute problems, thereby reducing patient traffic in general hospital emergency rooms. Taking these services into consideration, the number of people needing urgent and emergency treatment has increased significantly beyond the current number of general hospital emergency room facilities.