If someone who didn’t know the state of Israel and its challenges were to land here or start reading Israeli news sites in the last few weeks, they would receive the false impression that the greatest problem this country faces is its judiciary.
The entire country is focused on one issue - how judges to the Supreme Court will be appointed, what number will be required for an override bill to re-legislate laws struck down by the court, and if legal advisers in ministries can be personal appointees of ministers.
It is as if nothing else is happening, and as if nothing else matters. But that is not true. Just last week, in between the headlines about more protests and the vote on the judicial reform, there were reports about gun battles between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank city of Nablus, six rockets were fired from Gaza toward Israel, Israeli bombed Hamas targets in Gaza and a government report was released showing the continued decline of Israel’s health system.
While the attention and focus of the media and the politicians are naturally on the debate that continues over the judicial reform for the average Israelim, what matters are the issues that affect them on a daily basis such as the hike in interest rates, the weakening of the shekel against the dollar and security on our streets. And then there is the strike that happened this past week in our education system. Kids whose school years have been disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic got to spend more time at home because of a strike launched by the association of municipalities over a refusal by the government to increase the budget needed for the continued education of our children.
When it comes to the health system, the Health Ministry revealed on Thursday that the rate of hospital beds in general lags way behind the average in the advanced OECD countries.
In a report titled “Licensed Hospital Beds and Positions, December 2022”, compiled by Ziona Haklai, head of the ministry’s Health Information Division, the data show how the rate of beds for acute care in Israel is only 2.0 per 1,000 people, a figure significantly lower than the OECD average, which is 3.5. Most hospitals here still have patients lying in the corridors due to the lack of wards, equipment and enough doctors and nurses. This only worsens in the winter.
The rate of beds for acute psychiatric treatment is 0.3 per 1,000 people (OECD average is 0.4), while the rate of beds for rehabilitation treatment is 0.3 (OECD average is 0.5).
Additionally, the rate of long-term care beds is 2.9 per 1,000 people aged 65 and over (OECD average is 3.6), and the rate of beds in nursing institutions for chronic conditions including dementia stands at 16.9 per 1,000 people aged 65 and over (OECD average is 41.0).
Anyone who has ever required hospital care in Israel knows that the staff at hospitals are some of the most dedicated, talented and determined among Israel’s workforce. But they are at the same time, some of the most overworked and underpaid in the country.
When there are only two beds per 1,000 people in hospitals, what ends up happening is that when the wards overflow and become too crowded, there is just not enough staff to take care of all the people who are sick. We see this every winter during the flu season, when the internal wards at all the hospitals become crowded and patients start to get stored in hallways, and even in linen closets and kitchens.
This is not the fault of the staff at the hospital, but the government which refuses to allocate the necessary funds to give the hospitals and their workers the resources that they require.
If there is anything we should have learned from the last few years of grappling with the global pandemic, it is that the health of one’s people directly impacts the success of the country’s economy, the resilience of its society and the strength of its national security. To refuse to recognize that is simply bad policy.