Coronavirus ward (illustrative)
Coronavirus ward (illustrative)Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

Last week, the Prime Minister’s Office issued an extraordinary announcement regarding the addition of budgets and hundreds of new doctors, nurses, and administrative staff to hospitals, news which came as a surprise to many who wondered how, if at all, the numbers could suddenly be produced. Now a new report in Israel Hayom provides the background to this announcement, describing the acrimonious debates that went on behind the scenes when senior officials from the Bennett administration met with Health Ministry and Treasury staff, along with representatives from the health system.

The revelations were made by Dr. Miki Halbertal, the director of Rambam hospital in Haifa, during conversations he held, and recorded, with other directors of state (as opposed to private) hospitals. Halbertal himself was personally involved in last week’s meetings with Prime Minister Bennett and members of the Prime Minister’s Office as well as officials from the Health Ministry and the Treasury.

During his discussions with the other hospital directors, Halbertal revealed that during one of his discussions on the ability of hospitals to cope with “thousands” of severe cases of coronavirus, “a fist-fight almost broke out,” in his words, “with senior government officials telling the senior Health Ministry officials that, ‘You are going to be reaching these numbers – so just compromise and drop your standards – it’s okay for you to do that.’”

The Health Ministry officials did not take too kindly to that suggestion, Halbertal noted, and told Bennett’s men that, “If we really reach such numbers and people start dying in the streets, no one is going to vote for you again – just think what you’re saying!”

Dr. Halbertal told the other hospital directors that, “Senior government officials then basically gave us an order for the health system to find a solution for their estimated ‘red’ scenario of 2,400 seriously ill patients. The Treasury didn’t want to provide the resources, and I told Bennett, ‘You can’t seriously expect us to find solutions when you refuse to provide the resources to do so!’ Then the discussion went back to where it started: how everyone had thought that the coronavirus was over, and now suddenly it was like, ‘Oops, we made a mistake.’ Now the hospital wards are full to bursting – not like during the third wave, and even then we reached 1,200 patients and everyone was crying and groaning – and then it all stopped with the vaccines."

“During one of the discussions,” Halbertal continued, “I told them that in the current situation, we were not capable of finding a solution for even 1,200 seriously ill patients – that in Rambam, for instance, we had just 60 beds – and they told me that I would simply have to find 270 beds and I told him that it’s just not possible.”

Halbertal noted that, “There was one discussion during which they were putting immense pressure on Prof. Nachman Ash, the director-general of the Health Ministry. That also almost ended up in a brawl when they demanded that he come up with a solution to provide 2,400 beds and I said that we couldn’t do it. They told me that they were willing to provide more manpower, but only for a month, in order to get over the current wave. Nachman told me, ‘Listen, we can’t deal with a situation in which the Health Ministry drops the ball and it causes a lockdown.’ I also told Bennett that the current budget threw the state-run hospitals to the dogs. I said that I simply lacked the resources to give him the solution he was demanding, and that if I didn’t speak up and say so, then the doctors and nurses would. Everyone was exhausted with the situation and we had no one willing to keep on struggling the way we were already.”

Approached for comment, a spokesperson for Rambam hospital gave over a statement in Dr. Halbertal’s name: “I will not comment on what was said during private discussions between the managers of state hospitals.”

A statement put out by the Health Ministry said that: “We deny that such words were spoken,” and the response of the Prime Minister’s Office was along the same lines.