(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, who has expanded licenses for using medical cannabis to the current 30,000, admitted on Tuesday that the red tape involved in getting approval is still deplorable.
“A few weeks ago, I called our Kol Habriut number without identifying myself and asked about medical cannabis. I was given a special number to call. I had to wait 45 minutes on line, and still nothing. An aide of mine held on for another 25 minutes or more and got no answer. It was terrible, absurd. I finally told the people in charge that I was dissatisfied and may make a surprise visit.”
Litzman was speaking at the opening of the 11th annual Israel Medical Conference at Jerusalem’s International Conference Center, sponsored by the capital’s Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO) and Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Haifa’s Bnai Zion Medical Center and various other public and private interests.
“The government wants us to allow the export of cannabis,” Litzman continued. “I oppose it in principle, but the Treasury says it would bring in money. If it is allowed, I want some of the money to be spent to benefit the public health system,” the minister insisted.
“Cannabis is a drug – make no mistake about it. It should not be taken by people who are not patients and not by all patients,” Litzman said.
To reduce the waiting period for patients in pain and suffering from other maladies that could be helped by cannabis, the ministry is training 100 more medical specialists who will be able to prescribe it. Until now, he said, there were only a few.
As for the ministry’s plans to require green (healthful) and red (unhealthful) symbols to be affixed to some food product packages to reflect the amount of sugar, salt and harmful fats contained, Litzman said companies are putting intense pressure on the ministry, but it will not give in to them.
“I didn’t think they would make such a fuss about whether the symbols would be on the front, back or sides of the container. Israel is among the worst in obesity in children and even [type 2] diabetes in young people. All Israelis want the symbols, except for some companies,” he said.
However, Litzman did not mention reducing smoking, which is another major issue he and the ministry have been strongly criticized for.
The minister noted that the conference was being held not long after a seven-month-long crisis caused by the resignation of nine physicians from HMO’s pediatric oncology department due to dissatisfaction with the policies and behavior of HMO director-general Prof. Zeev Rotstein. This led to parents pulling their children out of the department and taking them to hospitals in the center. The High Court of Justice ruled that a new department could not be opened at Shaare Zedek but the dispute has still not yet been resolved.
Litzman emphasized the court decision “proved we were right. Jerusalem underwent a severe shaking – I am glad the affair has calmed down.”
Rotstein told the audience of about 1,000 that “it’s a shame there was such a crisis. In retrospect, there was a lack of communication, but the media got a lot of benefit out of it. Yet Israel lost... All those involved in the dispute lost.”
“This seven-month crisis was the most terrible in all my years in the medical system. All of those involved lost. Nobody won - not Hadassah, the Health Ministry, Shaare Zedek, the parents or the children,” he added.
Shaare Zedek Medical Center director- general Prof. Jonathan Halevy, who was seated next to Rotstein, together with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Litzman, declared the Hadassah department crisis was “maybe the worst in the Israeli medical system’s history.”
“But Shaare Zedek could be part of the solution; it was not part of the problem. I am for cooperation among medical institutions, but competition is also very good,” Halevy said.
The day-long conference, open to the general public, tackled issues including medical cannabis, the health gaps between the center of the country and the periphery, medical advances and clinical researcher.A feature on the conference will appear on the Sunday Health Page of August 20.