Not a single bed was added to the general public hospital system during the past four years, even though the population has both grown and aged during that period, according to the Health Ministry's 2009 report on hospitalization, issued for publication on Thursday.
Ziona Haklai, the ministry's longtime health information director, who prepared the 26-page report with Stavit Hillel, told The Jerusalem Post that this statistic was worrisome, as it put Israel at the bottom of the list as far as the number of hospital beds per thousand people, compared to other developed countries.
The Israeli rate per thousand dropped from 2.22 at the end of 2000 to the current 1.98 beds - an 11-percent decline. While there are 417 more beds now than in 2000, these were added only during the first half of this period. The lack of additional beds since 2005, said Haklai, means that patients are either being discharged too early, or they didn't get the best possible care during their hospitalization because doctors, nurses and other staffers were overburdened.
The Health Ministry presented a plan in recent years to increase the number of general hospital beds, but "the Treasury turned us down," she said. As the number of job slots for medical staffers is tied to the number of beds, the Treasury's veto has also prevented manpower growth in the general hospitals, she added.
There has been a growing trend in recent years for the four health funds to save money by treating more of their patients in their community facilities, rather than paying for hospital services.
While some treatments can be provided adequately in the community, and being in a hospital with a serious illness can increase the risk of nosocomial diseases (infections caused by being in a hospital), experts say, a hospital is strongly preferred for many treatments.
Meanwhile, the rate of beds has declined in psychiatric hospitals and increased in nursing care hospitals for the chronically ill. There are 3,050 beds in psychiatric hospitals and 23,156 in nursing care hospitals.
The total number of psychiatric beds (including in general hospitals) has decreased from about 7,000 in 1995 to some 4,000 today - a 47% drop. This trend is due to a shift in psychiatric treatment for most patients from hospitals to organizations in the community.
The number of beds in nursing hospitals for the chronically ill increased by 11% from 2008, according to the report, which will be published in Hebrew on the ministry's site at www.health.gov.il.
In actual numbers, there are 14,582 beds in general hospitals, 3,448 in psychiatric institutions, 23,401 beds for the chronically ill (including a few hundred in general hospitals) and 744 in rehabilitation hospitals, for a total of 42,175.
Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer is the largest hospital, with 1,014 beds, followed by Tel Aviv's Sourasky Medical Center with 994 and Petah Tikva's Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus with 989. The two Hadassah-University Medical Centers in Jerusalem have a total of 951 beds.
The number of day treatment beds in the general hospitals has remained steady, but the number of those in the psychiatric and nursing care hospitals has declined.
As for intensive care units in the general hospitals, only three beds were added in 2008. As a result, many patients who need such care are treated in internal medicine or other departments where the number of nurses and amount of advanced equipment is reduced.
A total of 959 dialysis patients can be treated simultaneously, and there are now 426 operating rooms, with only four additional ones last year. There is a total of 229 delivery rooms in the general hospitals, an addition of two in 2008; there is room for 1,386 newborns at any given moment (no change since 2006), with the most at Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba (106), followed by 72 at Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Medical Center.
The field that has grown the most is the treatment of addictions; there are 723 such inpatient beds today, a 62-bed increase since 2007.
Charlotte Cuthbertson, Epoch Times Staff
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