Israel could soon experience a shortage of doctors, warned Professor Shlomo Vinker, chairman of the Israel Family Doctors Association. Forty percent of the “family doctors” – the general practitioners (GPs) who are at the intake end of the Israeli medical system – are over 60 years of age, and not enough young doctors are in training to replace them, he told the Knesset Health Committee.
The meeting was called to discuss the situation at Israel’s health funds, in advance of decisions on how to spend the Health Ministry’s budget for the coming two years. GPs are not the only job that is going begging, said Dr. Alexander Levin, chairman of the GP department in the Clalit Health Fund. “We hire just 70 specialists a year, but we really need 250,” he told MKs. “The bureaucracy is impeding healthcare. Forty percent of the time family doctors work is spent on care, and 60 percent is spent on paperwork.”
In addition, he said, doctors in his and other health funds have a heavy caseload. According to statistics presented by MK Eli Alalouf, chairman of the committee, each family doctor in the Clalit fund has a caseload of 1,730 patients, while in the Maccabee fund that number is 1,814. In the Meuhedet and Leumi systems, the numbers are smaller, but still exceed 1,000.
Dr. Niva Azouz, head of medical personnel affairs in the Health Ministry, said that the Ministry hoped to provide funds for a program to hire new doctors. “We hope we will have the budget for this,” she said. “We are also trying to convince the Education Ministry to relax requirements for medical evaluations for students going on class trips, etc. and to allow hospitals to provide medications for the first three days after patients are discharged from the hospital. These steps will help relieve the pressure on family doctors,” she added.