Occupied Palestinian territory | News | A hospital can’t function with doctors alone

A hospital can’t function with doctors alone

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PRCS maternity hospitalPRCS maternity hospital in East Jerusalem is an important provider of neonatal careSalam Kana’an used to drive to the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) maternity hospital in East Jerusalem in just over 15 minutes. Nowadays, in order to arrive on time, she sets out two hours before her shift starts. As Director of Nursing, she struggles to maintain her staff’s operational schedule in the face of the Israeli permit regime and checkpoint delays.

“We had difficulties before the construction of the Barrier because the permit regime was already in place. For the last 3–4 years, though, since the Barrier was built around Jerusalem, the situation has got worse. Now, depending on where you live you are only allowed to use a certain checkpoint. If the checkpoint is closed, or the queues are long, you have a real problem.

Before the construction of the Barrier, you could try an alternative route. Not anymore.

There’s a special bus service for medical staff, but the buses only run for the morning shift. And then, each bus has to be accompanied by a so-called ‘security officer’, someone who holds a Jerusalem ID card. We have only one such person. Whenever he’s sick, or on leave, the bus is held up at the checkpoint. Most of the time when that happens, the medical staff have to get off the bus and queue with everyone else – not knowing how long it will take to cross.

About 70% of the 57 nurses at the PRCS maternity hospital come from the West Bank, and almost every day someone’s delayed at the checkpoint, or even turned back. A common problem is that the machine at the checkpoint doesn’t recognize your fingerprint. This has happened to every one of us. Just last month, two doctors and a nurse couldn’t come to work because their fingerprints weren’t recognized.

Doctors have a special stamp in their permit, which facilitates their passage through any checkpoint, but a hospital can’t function with doctors alone. For any surgical operation – in our case, the 250–290 births per month – a doctor needs to be assisted by nurses. In emergencies we‘re unable to bring in additional nurses quickly, therefore to be prepared for emergency cases, we oblige the staff member who is on stand-by to remain at the hospital. This leads to additional costs and impacts the staff member’s private life.” (September 2010).

Restricted access to East Jerusalem for medical staff

East Jerusalem, with its six hospitals, is the main provider of specialized care to the population in the occupied Palestinian territory. Together the hospitals have 624 beds – 12.4% of all hospital beds in the oPt – and provide a range of specialized treatments that are unavailable in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Most staff working in East Jerusalem hospitals come from the West Bank. In November 2008, the Israeli authorities implemented new restrictions obliging these staff to enter Jerusalem through three designated checkpoints only. Previously, they were allowed to use any checkpoint. This concession is now limited to doctors. Currently, hospital employees coming from the West Bank must cross checkpoints on foot. The long delays and periodic refusals at checkpoints have led to severe disruptions in the efficient functioning of East Jerusalem hospitals. The use of special buses for medical staff has improved the situation; however, problems remain.

The right to the highest attainable standard of health is enshrined in the WHO Constitution and numerous human rights instruments. Four criteria make up the right to health: availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality.

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Health access: Portraits

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