Nurses return to work after strike, dispute remains

Finance, Health Ministry officials to meet union representatives again in continued talks.

man in hospital bed with nurse 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
man in hospital bed with nurse 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Although no agreement had been reached by Monday evening between the Treasury and the Nurses Union about overcrowded hospital internal medicine departments and inadequate staffing, the one-day “warning strike” was scheduled to end at 7 a.m. on Tuesday.
Despite a positive atmosphere during more than 14 hours of non-stop negotiations, the sides failed to reach agreement, stumbling on the Finance Ministry’s demand for “industrial quiet” until the next contract is negotiated.
The Health and Finance ministries have agreed in principle that “incentives” are needed to bring more nurses into the public healthcare system, which cannot function without them.
Another meeting of Treasury and Health Ministry officials and the nurses will be held on Tuesday afternoon in Herzliya to try to resolve the dispute.
According to Nurses Union chief Ilana Cohen, more than 500 internal medicine beds were closed in hospitals around the country in recent years due to the shortage of nurses. Some have left the profession or gone into private healthcare because of the heavy burden of caring for patients.
During the warning strike, nurses worked on a reduced Shabbat schedule, postponing elective surgery and various procedures and examinations in the hospitals and minimizing or postponing those in the community.
At Ziv Hospital in Safed, 380 nurses carried out the warning strike with “mixed emotions.”
The hospital nurses work committee said the strike was justified, as “things can’t go on like this any more.” But they also worried about their patients.
Works committee head Arye Bitan said that it was wrong for patients to bed down in the corridors because of full capacity in the wards, adding that nurses care for more cases than possible. “There is a huge gap between the number of nurses in the hospital and the number needed to treat patients properly,” Bitan added. “It should be doubled,” he said.
Dr. Hanna Tzafrir, director of Ziv’s nursing school, said that to meet demand, the health system needs 2,000 nursing graduates each year. Israel has 4.8 nurses per 1,000 residents compared to the OECD average of 8.4.
Meanwhile, the Health Ministry announced that starting on Thursday, it would send its own public nurses to work in the School Health Service, but only in the Ashkelon and Southern Districts.
The Finance Ministry privatized the School Health Service around the country some seven years ago, resulting in inadequate functioning, errors and delays decried by public health experts and the state comptroller.
The rest of the country, the Health Ministry decided, would receive contracted nurses from private companies.
The private companies have performed below expectations in the South, where vaccination and health checks are behind schedule. The ministry has hired 73 public health nurses to operate the School Health Service in the region. There are nearly 200,000 school pupils in the area, which has a high birthrate, especially among Beduin.