A serious shortage of cancer specialists and residents has made it difficult for the oncology department at Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba to function, the hospital’s management said.But while Deputy Health Minister MK Ya’acov Litzman conceded this when answering a parliamentary question on Wednesday, he did not explain why the ministry has not recognized oncology as a “specialty in distress” in the periphery so that financial benefits would be offered to attract senior and junior doctors in the field.The parliamentary question was asked by MK Ruhama Avraham-Balila (Kadima). When Litzman did not answer, Knesset Speaker MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud) suggested that she ask Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is formally the health minister as well, that question.Avraham-Balila originally claimed that Soroka’s oncology department was in danger of closing down due to the lack of medical residents. She said the department, which serves cancer patients from Ashdod to Eilat, must remain open and called on the Health Ministry to find a solution.Litzman said that “so far, no long-term solution has been found. There is an increase in patients due to the technological improvements in diagnosing the disease [i.e. cancer], which requires an increase in manpower slots.”The deputy minister continued by saying that “the ministry, together with the National Council for Oncology, is working to encourage job slots, grants and increase the number of interns” in the department.A Soroka spokeswoman said “there is no intention of closing the department. There is a national shortage of medical residents in oncology. This is a field in which it is difficult to attract residents especially to a hospital that is not in the center of the country.”“We have immediate solutions to prevent the closing of the department. We believe that long-term solutions such as defining oncology as a specialty in distress are in the hands of the state,” she said.No comment was available from the ministry.