Oncology Departments Understaffed as Patient Load Rises

View of the Soroka hospital in Be’er Sheva, one of those laboring under a shortage of oncologists. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
View of the Soroka hospital in Be’er Sheva, one of those laboring under a shortage of oncologists. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Israel does not have enough oncologists to keep pace with the rising number of cancer patients in the country, Ha’aretz reported on Wednesday.

Only 250 oncologists are currently available to treat cancer patients in Israel; another the 180 positions are urgently needed, according to an estimate by the Israeli Oncologists Union.

“Coping with cancer is one of the major tasks we face in the next decade,” says the director of the Rambam Health Care campus, Prof. Rafi Beyar. “The previous decade saw a 44 percent increase in the number of patients with only a 12 percent rise in the number of oncology positions. We now lack 40 physicians, as well as additional staff such as radiation technicians — an area that has grown dramatically. The duration of treatment has been extended by a year, reaching 4.7 years on average. The number of hospitalization days in oncology wards has grown by 20%, to 9,700. Despite this, personnel and infrastructure have remained static.”

The Oncologists Union’s director, Prof. Wilmosh Marmerstein from the Soroka Medical Center, explained that while survival rates have improved in recent years, it has not meant that fewer doctors are needed. On the contrary, more survivors require more treatment.

“The cancer field is rapidly changing. Survival rates are higher but things are more complex. There are many more options and tests, so that appointments take longer, requiring more explanations and information. There is a more personal connection with patients, with more mental stress on doctors,” Marmerstein said.

The Ministry of Health said in response: “The ministry attaches great importance to finding solutions for oncology patients. The director general, together with leading hospitals, is preparing a plan to strengthen the system, with the addition of more beds and oncology positions. A new radiology center is planned in Tzefas. Deputy Minister Litzman has instructed the ministry’s director general to find ways of increasing the number of PET and MRI machines in order to shorten waiting times and enhance diagnosis. New cancer centers have opened in recent years in major hospitals, geared at providing comprehensive treatment for cancer patients. Patients enjoy subsidized benefits, with one third of the ministry’s budget devoted to new anti-cancer drugs. Radiation clinics are also being upgraded.”