The Knesset State Control Committee is scheduled to hold a session on Monday to discuss the state comptroller’s recent investigation of the state of well-baby (“tipat halav”) clinics. The investigation, part of the comptroller’s May report on the Health Ministry, found that the community clinics suffer from a lack of nurses and information, as well as from long queues, sub-standard buildings and lack of follow-up.
There are about 1,000 well-baby clinics around the country, of which 43 percent are owned and run by the ministry in municipal facilities and 52 percent are owned and operated by the health funds, while clinics in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are – by historical precedents – owned and run by the municipalities.
Committee chairman Amnon Cohen said on Thursday that although the centers’ nurses “do holy work, the present situation causes irreversible damage to the health of our children,” adding that the situation must be corrected immediately.
The comptroller’s criticism was aimed not only at the ministry but also at the local authorities and the health funds, all of which run clinics. About one million infants and toddlers are treated in the clinics each year, which distribute vaccinations and check their patients’ vision, weight and development. The centers also counsel parents and examine women during pregnancy.
The comptroller found that there are too few nurses at the centers, especially in high birth-rate haredi (ultra-Orthodox) communities, where 20 job slots go unfilled. As a result, the existing nurses are overworked, infants have to wait long periods to get their immunizations, checkups are delayed, and mothers do not get home visits after giving birth.
In addition, the clinics are open only during the morning and early-afternoon hours, forcing parents to take time off work to take their children in. The comptroller also complained that the Health Ministry does not inform the clinic nurses about babies who are not registered at the centers, or even when a baby is born in the area.
The comptroller also found that when children up to the age of six are injured and taken to hospital emergency rooms, where some receive anti-tetanus and other vaccinations, the community clinics do not get updated so shots are given again unnecessarily.
The physical condition of many well-baby stations is very poor, and some new neighborhoods that are home to many children don’t even have a station.
The comptroller found that although the four public health funds are obligated to provide well-baby services to members of any health fund in Judea and Samaria, they do not all fulfill this requirement.
The comptroller said the Health Ministry pays Clalit Health Services, the largest insurer, for these services, even though it “has not met this obligation.”
Asked to comment, the Health Ministry did not issue a new statement but reiterated the answers it gave the State Comptroller’s Office before it issued the biannual report. Then, the ministry said it “has initiated a multi-year program to improve the status and image of well-baby stations and its nurses.”
This program, the ministry said, will increase manpower, maintenance budgets, construction, computerization and equipment purchases, adding that it is considering an extension of reception hours. The ministry also maintained that it has taken various steps to find haredi nurses to serve in ultra-Orthodox areas.