Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman surprised and even shocked numerous senior medical administrators by stating there is a “black market” in MRI scanners – the multi-million dollar, huge devices that employ magnetic resonance to diagnose disease – and that “four or five were not reported by certain hospitals” to his ministry and lacked an appropriate ministry license for using them on patients.

The ministry does not fund the devices, but a law in force since 1994 stipulates that MRI scanners may not be purchased or used without a license. The Treasury demanded this – with support from the four health funds – to minimize the number of MRIs, so they would not be “overused” and cost the health insurers too much money. One MRI was allowed for every 750,000 residents of the country.

Litzman said at a Beersheba ceremony on Monday night – to dedicate a $3 million MRI facility at Soroka University Medical Center – that all medical directors must now report all MRIs at their hospitals.

The deputy minister said: “We are about to retroactively approve all of them. Whoever does not declare in a reasonable time about their existence will be fined – but in the end, they will all be approved.”

Senior medical administrators, who insisted on anonymity, said it has been “well-known among us for years” that Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer – which is a government hospital and the largest medical center in the country – “purchased and installed four or five MRIs some years ago as beta sites for conducting research, but they were quickly used for diagnosing disease as well, even though it had no license for doing so.”

The administrators said it was impossible the ministry did not know about this and did not understand why Litzman did not mention Sheba by name.

Health Ministry director-general Prof. Ronni Gamzu, who has been in office for two years, said he sent letters to all hospitals asking them to declare the unlicensed MRIs so administrators could avoid getting fined.

The administrators noted that Sheba’s current director-general, Prof. Zeev Rotstein, was deputy director-general when the MRIs were installed and used without licenses for diagnostics.

They said Rotstein is “very powerful, and that this is evidenced by the state comptroller statement in his most recent report on the Health Ministry: that the Sheba director-general works five other jobs and did not receive official ministry permission to fill all of these positions.”

The administrators said it was unfair for requests by some hospitals for MRI licenses to be turned down while other administrators run unlicensed ones. They insisted there is no longer any justification for the ministry to restrict the purchase of MRIs for diagnostic purposes, as the price for each scan has gone way down.

In addition, the technology in many cases makes it unnecessary to use a CT scan, which emits radiation and could harm patients. There is no medical danger to using MRIs, they said.

Asked to comment on claims that Litzman was referring to Sheba in his speech, spokesman Amir Marom said on behalf of Rotstein that his medical center “is not connected in any way” to what Litzman alluded to and that it “does not meet Litzman’s criteria of ‘certain hospitals.’”

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