School Health Service provider yet to be chosen

Health Ministry fails to choose company to work in schools as per court order; Public Health Nurses’ union declares labor dispute.

January 2, 2012 05:40
3 minute read.
School nurse and child

School nurse 311. (photo credit: Thinkstock)

The Health Ministry failed to carry out a court order to choose – by January 1 – a private company for running the School Health Service in most of the country or to provide a full complement of public health nurses in Ashkelon and southward as promised.

The state comptroller has in recent years severely criticized the government – the Treasury for its privatization policy and the Health Ministry for its implementation of that policy – regarding the School Health Service, which until six years ago was provided by public health nurses who were state employees. The Treasury claimed privatizing the service would save a few tens of millions of shekels a year, but the comptroller denied this.

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The School Health Service used to include not only vaccinations but also nurses in schools for providing first aid and health education – on overweight and eating disorders, smoking, drugs and relationships with the opposite sex. The three companies that were chosen sequentially after they were judged to have failed in providing even basic immunization to pupils were the for-profit Association for the Advancement of Public Health, a private subsidiary of Magen David Adom, and the Nataly cardiac ambulance service, which continues to be responsible for the service.

According to the Health Ministry, the three candidate companies in the tender are the Association for the Advancement of Public Health (set up by former ministry employees); Nataly; and BikurRofeh, which the Israel Defense Forces initially hired to treat soldiers but was replaced by the four health funds.

Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, head of the National Council for the Child, said on Sunday the “situation in the field is catastrophic” and blamed the Health Ministry for failing to properly provide service in the South due to “budgetary problems and bureaucracy.” He maintained that one of the companies for the tender claimed it was “not financially worthwhile” to run the School Health Service in Jerusalem and to settlements in Judea and Samaria, and this is liable to be handed over to the association, despite its failed record. Service in the rest of the country, said Kadman, is due to remain the responsibility of Nataly.

Privatization, he continued, “is irresponsible” and has cost the country much money due to “harm to children’s health.”

The Health Ministry said last year that due to the failure to provide adequate nursing services in southern schools, the service would return to the state. The Treasury agreed to finance this.

The council called on Prime Minister and formally Health Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, who previously as Knesset Finance Committee chairman advocated privatization, to cancel privatization of the School Health Service nationwide and provide the necessary funds for this.

The Health Ministry stated Sunday that carrying out the court decision to find a competent replacement for the companies was “a complicated challenge... and remains so.” It cited the “regional division” of services between the state and private companies and the economic and logistical problems.

The tender board is “now doing serious work with professional advice and will take another week at least” to complete it. Until then, Nataly will continue to run the School Health Service, the ministry said.

The Public Health Nurses’ union declared a labor dispute on Sunday because they have all not been rehired by the Health Ministry to run the School Health Service.

The Health Ministry said that starting January 1, the first 40 public health nurses have begun to take up their posts in Ashkelon and the southern district’s schools. The rest approved for the area will be added gradually, it said.

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