While Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman patted themselves on the back at Sunday’s cabinet approval of their five-year program to strengthen the health system, Kadima MK Rachel Adatto – a physician and lawyer by training – called it “Bibibluff – a recycling of old authorizations, misleading [statements] and half truths.”

Netanyahu, who is formally health minister, noted after the vote that “in the past decade, there has been almost no addition to the number of hospital beds in Israel. Today we are going to change this.

“I think that this is good socioeconomic news of the highest order because the strength of a society is not measured just in security or economic power but in how the elderly, the weak and the sick are cared for. Today, we are taking care of the sick.”

He, Steinitz and Litzman, said the prime minister, “are unanimous in our desire to strengthen the health system, alleviate conditions for both medical staffs and patients and allow the health system to continue to be among the world’s leaders.”

The prime minister thanked Litzman and Steinitz “for their common effort, over the past months, in preparing this decision. The time has come to deal with health and we are doing just that. I would like to thank you and your staffs for working with dedication to bring us to this moment,” said Netanyahu.

But Adatto, a hard-hitting member of the Knesset Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee and formerly a deputy director-general of Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center and a member of the Public Advisory Committee on the Health Basket, maintained that the plan “was meant to fool the public. It is full of inaccuracies and misleading [statements].

“It is another example of plans that Netanyahu and his office prepared at the last moment with a lack of understanding of the material and what is happening in the field. In addition, the timing was not by chance, as only last Monday, Kadima presented a motion of no-confidence in the government due to the lack of hospital beds in Israel and the crisis in the health system.”

The plan was suddenly announced last Wednesday evening by the Prime Minister’s Office, the Treasury and the Health Ministry. It said a total of NIS 500 million will be budgeted for the project, which aims at reducing hospital crowding and expanding health services to the public while giving priority to hospitals in the periphery.

The program aims to “increase the number of public hospital beds by 960 over the next six years plus the establishment of a new hospital in Ashdod, which will have 300 beds; thus the total will be 1,260 beds. Some 160 slots for doctors in the government hospitals will be added during the next two years.

“Incentive pay would be given to doctors in specialties in which there is inadequate manpower, especially in the periphery, and to encourage doctors to do shift work on weekends, nights and holidays,” according to the joint announcement.

It also said that the number of nursing students would be increased by 185, while 100 beds will be added to psychiatric hospitals. The number of approved magnetic resonance instruments (MRIs) would be increased from 10 to 21. Eight more linear accelerators used for external beam radiation treatments for cancer patients will be introduced.

Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya will open an in-vitro fertilization unit like those that exist in nearly every general hospital. Children’s accessibility to vaccines in the unrecognized Beduin settlements will be increased, it said.

Litzman last week called that the plan “unprecedented” and claimed it would have direct implications for improving healthcare.

But Adatto countered that the Litzman had already announced the 960 additional beds a number of times in the past, including before the Knesset plenum, and these constituted only a third of the number of beds needed. The 2011-2012 budget already “includes the money for these beds,” she said.

As for the proposed new hospital in Ashdod, this was misleading, she said, as a private member’s bill was passed in 2002 to bring this about. But the public tender for the hospital remains open, and according to estimates, the Ashdod hospital will not open before 2020.

The Kadima MK added that the government “misled” the public regarding the increased manpower slots during the next two years, as not only doctors had to be funded but also nurses and other hospital employees. The government did not cover the cost of additional MRIs, she said, but only granted the hospitals approval to buy them; they will have to raise funds to purchase the scanners.

No government approval was needed to approve the opening of an IVF unit in Nahariya’s hospital, as there should be one per 300,000 residents, and “according to Israel’s population, there may be 24 units; at present, there are only 23,” Adatto said.

“In fact, the Health Ministry delayed approval for the Nahariya unit for 18 months even though the whole Western Galilee – with its 650,000 residents – doesn’t have even one.”

The Israel Medical Association commented on the vote that it “welcomed the prime minister’s and health minister’s statement on the importance of the society’s ability to treat its patients,” but declared that the approved plan “failed to bring an new and significant” boost to the public health system.

“These are the same decisions that were presented in the past,” said chairman Dr. Leonid Eidelman, and that the 960 additional beds over five years were a “tiny increase in comparison to real needs.”

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, who is in charge of developing the Galilee and Negev, declared after the vote that the shortage of surgical theaters and the number of hospital beds and of intensive care units was “catastrophic.”

He complained that the plan does not discuss the allocation of new beds and how many would be in the periphery; he therefore abstained in the vote, even though the Health Ministry press release stated that the vote on the program was “unanimous.”

Shalom said that the failure to set down which hospitals would get more beds would “lead to power struggles and demand from hospitals in the center of the country for more beds,” said Shalom, adding that the cabinet vote was “in the right direction... but doesn’t give the proper response to needs.”

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