A government decision on whether to cancel the seven-year- old privatization by the Health and Finance ministries of the School Health Service is due to be taken in about a month, Health Ministry director-general Prof. Ronni Gamzu told the Knesset Labor, Social Welfare and Health Committee on Wednesday.
The union of former public health nurses – who were forced to work for a contractor and give vaccinations and health tests and lessons to schoolchildren – have threatened to go on strike or resign on August 1. However, schools resume their functions at the end of August.
Labor chairwoman Shelly Yacimovich and MKs Michal Roisin (Meretz), Gila Gamliel (Likud Beytenu), Dov Henin (Hadash) and Orly Levy- Abecassis (Yisrael Beytenu) proposed a bill to restore the public School Health Service before the coming school year by returning responsibility for it to the Health Ministry rather than handing it over to two private companies chosen in a government tender.
The state comptroller has more than once demanded that the privatization be canceled because many children were not vaccinated on time and there was little health education or adequate health testing of children.
The contracts of three companies were canceled, while one of then was hired again together with a fourth for the upcoming school year.
Although the Finance Ministry said privatization would save money, the comptroller argued that it proved to be even more expensive, inefficient and apathetic to the needs of children. The former public health nurses said they were forced by their employers to treat the children as if they were on a conveyor belt.
MK Ya’acov Litzman, when he was chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, came out strongly in favor of privatization, and when he was deputy health minister did not object to it. But at the end of his term, due to the heavy criticism, he restored public health nurses in the southern region only, because schoolchildren’s care there was especially problematic.
Gamzu told the committee that the government decided on privatization, and that Health Minister Yael German is holding discussions with the Treasury and the Education Ministry on decisions for the future. This will take about a month, he added, but restoring a public service would be difficult, Gamzu conceded, because contracts have been signed with two contractors for the new school year.
Committee chairman Haim Katz (Likud Beytenu) endorsed the full return of the public health nurses.
Henin said: “This terrible saga has reached a point in time when we have to decide. It’s impossible to continue with the bloodletting.
Nothing will help. This train continues to take us to terrible places.”
Nimrod Altman, the CEO of Nataly – one of the contracting companies that was fired and again hired by the ministry – maintained that his firm was doing an excellent job. “We signed contracts with the nurses and honor their rights.
But MK Afo Agbaria (Hadash), a physician, said he “had visited dozens of schools and nobody was satisfied with Nataly.”
Treasury budgets division representative Shira Greenberg said that “the state doesn’t know how to set policy and also supervise itself. The supplier of services should be different than the body that supervises it.”
She maintained that recently, the quality of the private contractors’ work had greatly improved.
Her statement infuriated Katz, who said: “Don’t be a hypocrite! The state knows how to manage and also supervise when it wants to.
As an example, see the nationalization of the pension funds.”