'We're not prepared for mass burns catastrophe'

Exclusive: MK Arye Eldad says lack of dedicated, fully staffed, equipped burns-units in Israel is no less dire than inadequate firefighting equipment.

December 29, 2010 02:55
2 minute read.
Train Fire

Train Fire 311. (photo credit: Ron Friedman)

The lack of dedicated, fully staffed and equipped burns-units in Israel is no less dire than the inadequate firefighting equipment and trained personnel exposed during the Carmel forest catastrophe.

So says National Union MK Arye Eldad, a trained plastic surgeon considered the leading burns expert in the country.

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Eldad studied burns treatment in England before serving as the IDF chief medical officer in 1997, and in 2006, was elected to the Knesset. Eldad gave an exclusive interview to The Jerusalem Post at the Knesset on Monday.

After hearing about the fire in the Israel Railways train that fortunately caused only smoke inhalation but no burns, he restated the danger on Tuesday.

People in Israel who are seriously burned have half the chances for survival that they would in the US, Britain, France or other countries with advanced burns units, he said.

He noted that four survivors of the recent huge forest fire died within days or a couple of weeks after being burned over most of their body.

“When such an event occurs, the heads of the Health Ministry call all the major hospitals to find beds for them,” he said.

In the case of the Carmel forest fire, the four were taken to Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center, which does not have a dedicated unit. Sheba Medical Center has what it calls a burns unit, but Eldad said it falls short of a dedicated one with its own intensive care unit, surgical theater and round-the-clock anesthesiologist to ameliorate the victim’s terrible pain.

The MK and plastic surgeon, who continues to voluntarily lecture on burns to students at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem twice a month, continues to attend burns conferences abroad and stay abreast of the medical literature.

He told the Post that it is not economically feasible for hospitals to keep a dedicated burns unit going all the time without subsidy by the state, as the number of cases is relatively small. Were the Health Ministry allowed by the Treasury to significantly increase payments for treating burns patients, there would be financial incentive to do so, Eldad emphasized.

In the meantime, Eldad said he has “given up hope” on the Health Ministry which, over many years, has been criticized by state comptroller reports for neglecting the care of burns patients numerous times – and yet nothing has been done about it.

Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director-general of the Hadassah Medical Organization, told the Post that plastic surgery and general intensive care units treat serious burns patients today. The Ein Kerem hospital still bears the sign of the Kobo Burns Unit that Eldad headed, but which has been downgraded since then.

If the ministry offered better financial incentives for fully fledged burns units, said Mor- Yosef, “we would consider [installing them] at Hadassah.”

The Health Ministry’s senior officials, though requested to comment on Monday, have not yet done so.

A feature on the danger of dedicated burns units will appear on the Health Page on Sunday, January 9.

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