Israeli nurses threaten general strike as system heads toward collapse

Israeli nurses threaten a general strike, claiming they are understaffed and suffering under heavy workloads.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Israeli nurses are threatening a general strike due to manpower shortages, reported Ynet on Monday.

Last month, the National Nurses Union declared an official labor dispute, triggered by what they call “impossible working conditions” for Israeli nurses during the second wave of coronavirus infections.

Before the coronavirus crisis, Israeli nurses complained about a manpower shortage and heavy workloads, and held a modified strike last July. The understaffing and workload issues have been exacerbated by the large uptick in emergency room and coronavirus ward admissions.

“Whoever thinks patients are receiving proper treatment today is mistaken,” Ilana Cohen, Chair of the National Nurses Union, told Ynet. “The nurses are collapsing, the system is crashing. This [the strike] is not an empty threat.”

Yesterday, Cohen sent a letter to Finance Minister Israel Katz, demanding a meeting to prevent a strike.

“I don’t need public support to make this move, I’m not running for office,” Cohen said. “We need manpower. The government is abandoning the patients and nurses, and the healthcare system is drained.”

Speaking to Ynet, Cohen described the mismanagement she says is currently taking place in Israeli hospitals. “They’re purchasing respirators, but not training nurses how to operate them. Resuming hospital services without adding manpower, and opening coronavirus wards without enough staff.”

“It’s time for the health system to be a priority. Before the election everyone was talking about the healthcare system. Where are all the promises now?” asked Cohen. “Until you use force, nobody pays attention. We will strike. Period.”

Seven-hundred-fifty-nine nurses are currently in quarantine due to exposure to coronavirus carriers. According to the Ministry of Health, last month just 124 nurses were quarantined. The 500 percent increase in nurses taken out of the workforce has dealt a serious blow to a staff that’s already spread thin.

“We’re talking about hundreds and maybe even more than a thousand missing staff,” Professor Arnon Afek, Chairman of the Israeli Hospitals Association told Ynet. “There is a great shortage in the number of nurses compared to the number of beds we operate within hospitals.”

The Histradrut released a statement supporting the nurses, saying, “Despite the decision to allocate the budget to recruit more nurses for the treatment of coronavirus patients, this was never implemented.”

“Hospitals have taken nurses from other departments, which are already busy. This means nurses are forced to work in understaffed departments with heavy workloads, which impairs their ability to provide proper care to all patients.”

The Finance Ministry responded with a statement promising “the allocation of about 10 billion shekels to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.” It said, “800 nursing positions have been added in recent months to strengthen hospitals and the public health system.”