Health Ministry D-G advocates School Health Service

Litzman, who wanted privatization when he headed Knesset Finance Committee, remains silent.

July 5, 2011 06:25
3 minute read.
Dr. Ronni Gamzu

RonniGamzu311. (photo credit: Sourasky Medical Center)

Health Ministry director-general Prof. Ronni Gamzu said on Monday publicly for the first time that the government erred by privatizing the School Health Service about six years ago, choosing a private company to provide immunizations and perform checkups on children instead of using the ministry’s public health nurses.

Gamzu, who took office a year ago, was speaking before the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee.

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Privatization of school nurses’ services was initiated by the Treasury to “save money” when in fact it cost more and significantly lowered the level of services, according to a State Comptroller’s Report. Health Ministry officials privately objected many times to the move but proved too weak to change the Finance Ministry’s decision; the officials did not voice their opposition publicly.

Since taking office two-and-ahalf years ago, Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman – who previously as head of the Knesset Finance Committee backed privatization – has not come out publicly against it.

Gamzu denied reports that the ministry is looking into the possibility of public health nurses being hired by local authorities. Instead, he said, Nataly company nurses will continue until next July under rigorous supervision by the ministry. But he stressed that the state, through the Health Ministry, must run the School Health Service rather than private companies.

“It was not wise and proper to transfer the [ministry’s service] to another framework. We are standing before an epidemic of chronic diseases and obesity problems, and this is is not the way to run it. But the Finance Ministry has not agreed to give 300 more job slots, so I am forced to take an anti-nausea pill and live with compromise that I don’t like,” Gamzu said.

As a result of the privatization, the government hired the private Association for Health Promotion (which was manned by former Health Ministry employees); replaced it with a private service in Magen David Adom; and then hired the Nataly cardiac monitoring company to take over. But the state comptroller and Knesset committees declared that all had failed and not even managed to complete the vaccination in recent years of all children who should have received their injections to protect them against infectious diseases.

Gamzu told the committee, headed by Likud MK Haim Katz, that Nataly would continue running the service privately for another school year, because it had not issued a new tender in time and lacked 300 public nurse job slots to enable his ministry to carry it out – if the Treasury agreed.

Katz said: “Not everything is money. Pupils are not being vaccinated, errors are being made, nurses are working under terrible conditions and you in the Treasury continue to be stubborn. You are hurting the country. To gain pennies, you destroyed the health of pupils. We have lost.”

MK Orly Levy of Israel Beiteinu, who was among those who initiated the discussion, said, “The Treasury’s thinking behind the privatization was to save NIS 28 million a year, but in fact, nothing was saved and we paid with our children’s health.”

A Treasury representative answered: “We weren’t motivated by savings and didn’t choose the cheapest offer. It is true that Nataly had difficulties of starting up, but its functioning improved. I don’t know of deterioration in the hiring of the nurses, and the pupils who were not vaccinated will get theirs in the summer.”

Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich said that state costs are liable to increase many times if children are not vaccinated properly and epidemics break out. “An enlightened country that turns preventive medicine into something that is bought and sold and totally ignores investment in the future is a thirdworld country.”

Although asked to comment, Health Ministry spokeswoman Einav Shimron-Greenboim did not react.

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