In 2011, the Health Ministry 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.
Back in 2010, Israel's hospitals had some 36,300 nurses – much lower than the average number of nurses in OECD countries.
The situation is even worse in the periphery. Data published by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics shows there are only 3.2 nurses per 1,000 people in the south and 3.7 nurses in the north.
The plummeting number of nurses stems from the fact that fewer young men and women choose to join 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.
In recent years the Health Ministry has attempted to appeal to more students by offering more locations where one might study take up the profession. However these attempts did not prevent the growing health crisis.
Ilana Cohen, head of the Israeli Nurses Union, noted that "Israel has a shortage of 2,400 nurses and each year only 850-900 new nurses receive qualification, so the gap just keeps growing. Even if we a great number of nurses were to graduate, we'd still be far behind."
Moreover, it seems that the average age of a nurse in Israel has gone up. D, a head nurse at a clinic, said that a nurse's average age is 55. "Ten years from now we'll have no one to talk to. We can't seem to find new nurses to replace those who retire," she explained.
Due to the shortage in manpower, the nurses must deal with an impossible workload in the different departments.
"It used to only be like that during flue season, when nurses would say: 'My, what a tough winter.' But it's like that all year," said Marina Tahor, 41, the deputy-head nurse at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon.
"People have tears in their eyes and you feel like you're working non-stop, insufficiently, and only putting out fires. As soon as you enter the department you see the first patient in the hall and then you discover it's not one patient, it's a train (of patients)."
"Some 30 people are hospitalized in the emergency room on a daily basis because there is no room for them in the departments. It's like we've opened another department in the emergency room. You are forced to ignore those patients who need help and just go to whoever is in the worst condition," explained Alex Sandler, 42, a nurse at Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba.
Alex, who has been a nurse for the past 16 years, added that "there is no room, physically, because there are 35 beds and 90 patients, so they are scattered around on the chairs, not even in beds in the halls – because we don't have those either."
Meanwhile, there are ongoing attempts to prevent another strike as representatives from the Treasury and Health ministries, together with the Israeli Nurses Union heads, are set to meet in Jerusalem Tuesday afternoon.