Israeli health system understaffed, under-equipped - OECD data

A report released by the Health Ministry examined exactly where Israel has improved or deteriorated when compared with data from 2010.

 Kaplan hospital team members wearing safety gear as they work in the Coronavirus ward of Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot on January 18, 2022. (photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)
Kaplan hospital team members wearing safety gear as they work in the Coronavirus ward of Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot on January 18, 2022.
(photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)

An average of three hospital beds are available per 1,000 people in Israel, in comparison to the OECD average of 4.4 beds per 1,000, as seen in new data shared by the Health Ministry on Monday afternoon. The number drops to just 2.2 beds per 1,000 people in acute care units in comparison to the OECD average of 3.5, and to just 0.4 against the OECD average of 0.7 beds per 1,000 in psychiatric care units.

The report released by the Health Ministry compared OECD data in 2019 with data from 2010, examining exactly where Israel has improved or deteriorated, and where it ranks in comparison to the other OECD countries.

During the coronavirus pandemic over the last two years, Israel’s healthcare system has undergone significant changes that are expected to impact several factors in future OECD reports, although they are not accounted for in this most recent one, the Health Ministry stressed.

It is not just hospital beds that Israel has proven to be below average, however. While the OECD average for the number of doctors per 1,000 people is 3.69, Israel falls short at just 3.29. Countries including Australia, Italy and Norway all rank above average, while the US, the UK and Canada placed lower than Israel, with 2.64, 2.74, and 2.95, respectively.

With regard to nurses, Israel falls significantly short, ranking only above Mexico, Greece and Latvia with the number of nurses per 1,000 people. While the OECD average is 9.4 per 1,000, as of 2019, Israeli data showed only five nurses per 1,000 people on average, a slight increase from the reported 4.7 in 2010, but still far below the average.

 Doctors at Mayanei Haeyshua (credit: Courtesy) Doctors at Mayanei Haeyshua (credit: Courtesy)

The low number of doctors and nurses in Israel is likely caused by the low number of graduating medical students the country sees each year.

As of 2019, Israel was second to lowest of all OECD countries when it came to graduating medical students, only narrowly beating Japan. A mere 7.2 medical graduates were recorded per 1,000 people, almost half of the OECD average of 13.1 per 1,000.

While the number of Israeli trained physicians is lower than average, the country was the highest of all 38 OECD countries when it came to foreign-trained doctors. Whereas the OECD average per 1,000 was merely 19.9, in 2019 Israel saw 57.8 foreign-trained physicians per 1,000 people.

The low number of hospital beds and medical staff in Israel put a strain on the healthcare system during each wave of COVID-19, causing hospitals to be filled to capacity, short on staff and short on equipment. In January 2021, for example, reports came out of Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center of patients who should have been placed in the ICU remaining on regular wards instead, simply due to lack of space. While some at the time pointed to the pandemic as the singular cause for this, Dr. Philip Levin, director of the hospital’s ICU, stated otherwise, saying that such shortages had been a common occurrence before the pandemic as well.

Most recently, the Omicron wave has caused additional strain on the healthcare sector. With more than 9,000 hospital workers currently in quarantine, some hospitals say they might have to resort to canceling non-urgent procedures.

When it comes to medical imaging machinery, Israel again underperforms, with the number of MRI machines per million people being more than three times lower than the OECD average.

Whereas on average a country will have 17 MRI machines per million people, Israel has only 5.1. However, since 2010, the number has risen from 2.2, showing a positive upward trend, albeit a slow one.

CT scanners too, are in shorter supply in Israel, with only 9.7 available per million, in comparison to the 25.8 per million available on average across OECD countries.

Only 7.5% of Israel’s GDP goes to the healthcare sector each year, a relatively low amount in comparison to the OECD average of 8.9%. However, when it comes to health insurance, the public has shown their willingness to invest in it, with 84.1% of the population holding voluntary health insurance, putting Israel into third place among OECD countries.

The report also shows that despite the low number of available psychiatric beds, Israel has a lower suicide rate than many other OECD countries, reporting six suicides per 100,000 people in 2018-2019, in comparison to the OECD average of 11.6. Furthermore, the rate had dropped since 2010, when Israel reported 7.4 suicides per 100,000.

The average person’s alcohol consumption in Israel is also relatively low, at just 3.1 liters per year in comparison to the 8.8 OECD liter average. Both smoking and obesity rates in Israel closely match the OECD average, however.

Life expectancy and fertility rates continue to rise in Israel, with the average life expectancy in Israel being one of the highest among OECD countries at 82.9 years.

Israel’s fertility rates are the highest among all OECD countries, with an average of three births per woman, compared to just 1.6 on average in the OECD.

Overall, said Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash, the OECD data “faithfully reflects the state of Israel’s health system, which shows excellent results but with relatively low resources.

“In the last two years,” Ash said, “more than ever, we have seen how healthcare workers give of themselves and bring the healthcare system to excellence, and for that we thank them.”