At the last minute on Monday Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu saved the fortification project of Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center from threatened budget cuts to the Health Ministry.

The original NIS 18 million cut to the Defense Ministry was increased to NIS 100 m., half of which is earmarked for fortification of the hospital, which has often been threatened by rockets and missiles from Gaza.

On Sunday, Ashkelon Mayor Benny Vaknin sent a letter to Netanyahu pleading for the project’s funding not to be cut.

The money would allow an underground emergency department and other facilities to be constructed.

“I read with shock in the media,” Vaknin said, “that as part of the expected cuts in the Health Ministry, one of the important and lifesaving projects liable to be halted is the Barzilai emergency department fortification. I personally struggled along with many others to bring about its construction in its original location” instead of a much-more expensive site advocated by Litzman because the Gur hassidim claimed that “Jewish bones” had been found there, when in fact they were pagan. “A special budget was allocated for the work,” the mayor said.

The lives of thousands of patients in Ashkelon and its environs, as well as those of soldiers serving in the area, are endangered by the lack of a fortified emergency department, the mayor continued in his letter to Netanyahu, who should, he said, intervene immediately.

Kadima MK Rachel Adatto, a physician and head of the Knesset Health Lobby now in the opposition, called on Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, “who recently knew how to pressure the prime minister to prevent the drafting of haredi yeshiva students – to, with the same determination, put all of his political clout behind” preventing budget cuts in the health system.

“Eight million citizens expect the person at the head of the health system to act in a real way on behalf of the public interest and not only for sectoral ones.”

Dr. Chezy Levy, director-general of Barzilai – who until six months ago was chief of the ministry’s medical division and thus responsible for public hospitals – said Sunday that medical centers in the periphery suffer from inadequate medical manpower, outdated equipment and inadequate infrastructure, compared to the wealthier medical centers in the center, thus they are most hurt by budget cuts.

Meanwhile, the Public Campaign for Equity in Healthcare, which includes the Association for Human Rights in Israel, wrote to Netanyahu to voice its opposition to health budget cuts. The ministry has declared it will carry out “revolutions” in healthcare to reduce social gaps, but the evidence is not seen in the field, it said. As a result, the health gaps between the rich and poor widen.

Experts, they wrote, say there is a NIS 9 m. deficit in health budgets reached over the past 15 years. The letter was signed by Rami Adut and Shlomit Avni of ACRI.

Dr. Masad Barhoom, director-general of the Western Galilee Government Hospital in Nahariya, added that his institution has been suffering from “painful cuts” for the last two years. These have threatened the hospital’s plans to build a women’s health division and other vital facilities. He called on Netanyahu as prime minister and health minister and on Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz to cancel the additional cuts.

Meanwhile, journalist-turned-politician Yair Lapid will appear on Monday at the Hadassah Medical Conference at Jerusalem’s International Convention Center to speak about equity in healthcare, which will be a major subject of the event.

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