The ministry is preparing for a staged resumption of routine medical care, in light of the slowdown in the rate of infections.
Dr. Varda Ezra, director of the ministry’s medical division, sent hospital and HMO directors a draft letter in which she wrote “beginning on May 3, 2020 if there is no serious worsening of the pandemic, elective procedures will be resumed.”
Elective surgery requiring local anesthesia will take place depending on access to protective gear and in keeping with rules on social distancing and crowd prevention. Surgery requiring full anesthesia can take place if the hospital has a four-month supply of anesthesia on hand.
Initially, morning surgery will be conducted at 60 per cent of the pace prior to the coronavirus crisis. Afternoon surgeries, most of which are done outside of public medical services, may be performed at 50 per cent the routine pace. Hospitalization will be on a single person per room basis or using dividers to separate patients to the greatest extent possible.
The plan also deals with dental work most of which has been halted for more than a month. The ministry says dental clinics in the community and in hospitals may resume operations on a reduced basis. A first stage calls for urgent treatment and to complete treatment halted because of the crisis, and the surgeries will be conducted at a pace of 60 per cent of that which was taking place before the crisis. In communities with a high level of infection, or “red” communities, only urgent dental care will be provided at this time.
The ministry has urged non-urgent care to be postponed as much as possible for patients at risk aged 67 or older. Such care will be provided only on the basis of consultations ahead of time and prior coordination. The ministry also prefers manual plaque removal at this time over electronic means.
Ezra writes that “the gradual resumption of activities is in parallel with continued duty and demands to treat coronavirus patients in hospitals and the community.” She says the plan for resuming routine care will be on the basis of “an assumption that the health system has the capability of responding swiftly to extraordinary events, such as a renewed outbreak of the coronavirus,” at which time routine care may be interrupted to prioritize handling of the virus.
Routine medical care has been interrupted in recent months, along with a halt in elective surgeries, due to public fears of being referred to larger medical centers. In recent weeks Haaretz has reported a drop in dozens of percent of people seeking emergency care. The Health Ministry launched an advertising campaign urging the public not to be afraid to go to emergency rooms.
There has also been a decrease in patients seeking care for cardiac and other blood disorders and for oncological examinations. Health officials fear any lengthy delay in providing non-urgent medical care will exact a heavy price down the line.