Hospital administrators, MKs and patients lashed out at the Health Ministry on Wednesday for not giving Ziv Medical Center in Safed a license to operate a PET/CT machine and a linear accelerator for cancer diagnosis and radiation treatment.
The criticism was made at a meeting of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee held to discuss the situation.
In 2011, a committee appointed by the ministry recommended that hospitals in the North be upgraded so cancer patients living there would not have to travel to Haifa and southwards to get diagnosed and treated.
Safed was considered the perfect location for the accelerator and imaging systems because of the opening of the country’s fifth medical faculty there.
But even though the ministry didn’t have to pay for the equipment, which the medical center raised funds for itself, officials did not agree to license it.
Ziv director Dr. Oscar Embon told the Knesset committee that when he applied for a ministry license he was greeted with a “blank wall.”
“If we have a nuclear accelerator, what’s the problem in getting approval for the imaging center?” he asked.
Cancer patients from the North complained that they have to travel a whole day by bus to reach the Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus in Petah Tikva to be diagnosed and treated.
“Would anyone expect Tel Aviv residents to travel to the North for such things?” asked one patient.
Former deputy health minister MK Ya’acov Litzman said it was absurd for the ministry not to license the equipment because of regulations that state that one such facility should be allowed per 880,000 residents.
Such a criterion must be canceled, he said.
Health Ministry director- general Prof. Arnon Afek maintained that his ministry was dedicated to improving health services in the periphery.
“Ziv is the next in line to get a license, there are outdated regulations setting down how many machines may be approved according to the number of residents. In addition, we are waiting for the decision of the High Court of Justice in a plea that doesn’t allow us to approve such devices in the hospital,” he said without further explaining the case.
Knesset committee chairman MK Haim Katz and other members committed themselves to act immediately to get approval for the Safed facility.
“We live in a country with magnificent technology such as the Iron Dome to intercept rockets, but it doesn’t allow hospitals to purchase equipment they need to treat patients,” Katz said.
“The Health Ministry must urgently present new regulations, and we will approve them on the spot. The Finance Ministry, which must sign amended regulations, must decide if it is for or against the patients,” he added.
The most northern PET/CT facility is at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, where it works two shifts and performs 35 examinations daily. Many patients from the North go to Rambam, but the queue there is very long so they have to go to the center of the country, where there is a waiting period of only two to three days. The northern region, with a population of 1.35 million, still does not have a PET/ CT facility, even though the linear accelerator is ready to function.
A PET/CT scan combines images from a positron emission tomography (PET) scan and a computed tomography (CT) scan that are performed simultaneously using the same machine. As a CT scan provides detailed pictures of tissues and organs inside the body, and a PET scan reveals any abnormal activity, combining these scans creates a more complete image than either test can offer alone.
The system is used to detect cancer and find out the cancer’s stage. Knowing the stage helps the doctor and patient decide what kind of treatment is best and to predict prognosis.
In addiction, the CT portion of this scan is often used for radiation therapy treatment planning.