The Health Ministry on Wednesday published a report pointing to a significant drop in the number of doctors, dentists and dental technicians in Israel
over the past decade – but the most alarming figure appears to be the swift decline in the number of nurses.
In 2010, Israel's hospitals had some 36,300 nurses – much lower than the average number of nurses in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries.
Out of the 24 developed countries, Israel ranked 22nd with 4.7 nurses per 1,000 people – a 9% drop since 2000.
Israel ranked 22nd in the doctor-nurse ratio as well, with 1.4 nurses per doctor. Japan, which tops the list, has an average of 4.4 nurses per doctor.
The plummeting number of nurses stems from the fact that fewer young men and women choose to study the nursing profession. The past decade recorded a 50% drop in the number of qualified nurses: From 1,864 in 2002 to only 903 last year.
The number of young nurses, under the age of 45, has also shown a steady decline – 42% in 2012 compared to 53% a decade ago.
The situation isn't better among doctors: The number of physicians under the age of 65 fell to 3.38 per 1,000 people compared to 3.71 at the end of 2000 – a 9% drop.
Rosie Grinshpan, 51, head nurse at the Cardiac Care Unit and chairwoman of the nurses' committee at the Edith Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, is hardly surprised by these figures.
"Many nurses are like me, in an advanced age. In a few years we'll really have to recruit manpower in India," she warns.
According to Grinshpan, out of 35 nursing positions each unit is legally entitled to – only 30 have been manned. "The situation in Israel is like a ticking bomb," she says.
This is not the way Grinshpan imagined her profession when she chose to go to nursing school 32 years ago.
"I entered this role knowing that I'm willing to work hard, but I won't provide treatment which isn't of the highest quality. We no longer complain about not visiting the dining hall for the past 10 years due to lack of time, but we do complain about not being able to meet the patients' needs.
"It's simply a disgrace. People are angry with us all day, even though we do everything we can. The doctors go home at 4 pm, and most of the time the burden falls on our shoulders. With such infrastructure – it's impossible to recruit new manpower."
She says nurses in Israel envy their colleagues abroad. "In New York, for example, nurses earn much more, have normal working conditions and don't have to do sanitary work. No wonder many nurses go abroad. I would leave too if I could.
"Nurses must be taken care of. They work so hard – why make it even more difficult?"
Rosie Grinshpan has been leading the nurses' struggle at her hospital for the past 15 years.