Earlier this month, the Nurses' Union announced a general labor dispute demanding protection against violence for medical staff. This came after nurses at psychiatric hospitals staged a two hour walk-out in all psychiatric hospitals across the country in a show of support for a nurse who was assaulted by a patient.

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The assault occurred on November 15 in a closed women’s ward at the Lev Hasharon Psychiatric Center located in Tzur Moshe, a town east of the central city of Netanya. According to the Nurses’ Union, the patient severely pulled the nurse’s hair and repeatedly bit and kicked her. The nurse was eventually evacuated for medical treatment within the hospital.

The Nurses Union's demand is the full implementation of an agreement with the Ministry of Health from August 2018, in which the Ministry  undertook to fully implement 60 conclusions of a committee to reduce violence in the health system.

This committee was established after nurse Tova Carrero was burned to death by a patient at a Clalit HMO branch. The agreement included a timetable for the implementation of the committee's conclusions, including the strengthening of standards for nurses, the establishment of community policing stations in hospitals, and security standards for psychiatric hospitals.

Nurses strike at mental health centers in protest of a recent assault on a nurse by a patient. (Photo: Nurses' Union)

The director of the Lev Hasharon Psychiatric Center, Dr. Shmuel Hirschmann, bemoaned the lack of implementation of this plan. In a radio interview with GalGalatz army radio, Dr. Hirschmann described a situation he deemed untenable for quite some time.

“Psychiatric centers have been suffering from neglect for years,” Hirschmann said. “We have been confronting great difficulties dealing with the Finance Ministry in securing funds to provide our mental health centers with protection [for the staff and the patients]."

“It is necessary that we have round-the-clock security guards stationed in every ward because it helps with deterring and reducing potential threats," he continued. “In theory there are supposed to be security guards stationed in the wards, but because of tedious bureaucratic processes, not every psychiatric facility has.”

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz spoke with the nurse who was attacked the morning after.

“The medical staff are giving their lives to this profession but are facing difficult conditions and a shortage of manpower,” Horowitz wrote on his Twitter account.

“I am personally committed to improving the situation in this matter. And to our dear nurse – a speedy recovery. We are all thinking of you and wishing you well.”

Ilana Cohen, Chairwoman of the Nurses’ Union: “The writing is on the wall.” (Photo: Hadas Parush / Flash90)

The chairwoman of the Nurses’ Union, Ilana Cohen, warned of a strike if the agreements to allocate additional resources to deal with violence in the health system were not implemented.

“The writing is on the wall,” Cohen said. “If the agreement to eradicate violence is not implemented immediately, we will shut down the entire health care system.”

Cohen expanded on her remarks, explaining that “for years, our pleas to the Ministry of Health has fallen on deaf ears, and they have not fulfilled their obligations to eradicate violence [in the psychiatric wards.] This assault would not have occurred if there had been security guards in the closed ward as required by the agreement.”

Cohen added: “This situation must not continue, nurses and other medical staff must not have to fear for their lives while working. Enough of this violence.”

The worker’s union for government employees published a statement in support of the nurses: “[we] expect the top officials at the Ministry of Health to create appropriate working conditions to eradicate workplace violence, so that nurses can begin and end every day at work without fear of getting hurt.”