The government’s privatization of the School Health Service about eight years
ago was an “absolute failure,” the Supreme Court declared this week.
Health Ministry’s handover of its responsibilities to a series of three
companies caused a “drastic reduction” of 31 percent in allocations for the
vital service, which is meant not only to vaccinate children against disease but
also to provide health education and perform physical checks.
Council for the Child director Dr. Yitzhak Kadman – whose organization opposed
privatization of the service from the outset – said on Tuesday that the
“government failed in supervising the private bodies, chosen by government
tender, that provided and still provide the service in schools around the
country – and was forced to continue working with them after they failed.” The
companies were the for-profit Association for Public Health, a subsidiary of
Magen David Adom and Natali-Seculife.
The Treasury, which initiated the
privatization, claimed it would save millions, but the state comptroller in
several reports wrote that it was a failure and cost even more
Moreover, when Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman was chairman
of the Knesset Finance Committee, he had earlier this year come out strongly in
favor of the privatization. However, in the face of the negligence – to
vaccinate all children on time, not to mention provide them with checkups and
health counseling – he agreed to rehire some public health nurses to provide the
service from Ashkelon and southward, where it was most
Litzman has not publicly admitted to having committed a
serious error by pushing for the privatization of the School Health Service,
saying on Tuesday that the decision was taken “when someone else was health
minister.” However, he said, until the eventual “full restoration” of
responsibility for it, the ministry will “ensure the provision of efficient and
professional services” for all schoolchildren.
Prof. Itamar Grotto, head
of the ministry’s public health service, said a few months ago he would be happy
if the whole service could be de-privatized.
In a case involving the
privatized service, the court ruled that the state should carefully reassess the
matter. “Is there no place for the Health Ministry to again provide these
services? Privatization is not... a magic word, and it can constitute an excuse
for the government to forgo its responsibilities,” the court said.
called on the ministry to “admit its failure and especially to learn lessons
“Stop the unethical ‘medical experimentation’ of these past
years at the expense of Israeli school pupils and their health,” he
Kadman argued that the ministry should bring back all of the
public health nurses it previously employed, and restore its budget, at minimum,
to what it was at the beginning of the past decade “before the service was
intentionally dried up and then privatized.” The Supreme Court “could not
have provided a broader hint about the need to stop the privatization and
restore preventive health care for pupils,” he said.