Leadership is needed to return the health system to its past greatness. The time has come for Netanyahu to face up to this responsibility.
DEPUTY HEALTH Minister Ya’acov Litzman Photo: (Ariel Jerozolimski)
It was a dubious honor. The Health Ministry was the single most mentioned of all
government offices in the latest State Comptroller’s Report. Over two-thirds of
the report was devoted solely to this ministry’s many shortcomings. As The
Jerusalem Post’s health and science editor Judy Siegel pointed out, never before
in recent memory has a State Comptroller’s Report devoted so many pages of
criticism to the Health Ministry.
Though it is difficult to generalize,
many of the faults the state comptroller raised seem to have stemmed from the
inherent conflict of interests in a ministry that runs state hospitals and
clinics while at the same time being responsible for licensing and supervising
both public and private healthcare. This conflict of interests creates untenable
situations in which the ministry is tempted to work in direct contradiction to
citizens’ express medical needs.
One glaring example was the serious
shortage of rehabilitation facilities and personnel for elderly people who
suffer strokes or hip fractures. As a result, many elderly people remain
hospitalized in general hospitals’ internal medicine departments without proper
treatment. This further exacerbates crowding in these departments. It also
endangers the lives of these elderly patients by indefinitely postponing their
desperately needed physiotherapy.
This quickest way to solve this
bottleneck is to license more private institutions to engage in rehabilitation
of the elderly. But since the state owns and runs geriatric hospitals, it has an
interest in monopolizing the market and preventing private
It should come as no surprise that though the demand for
geriatric rehabilitation has grown as our population ages, the number of
licensed beds in private facilities has actually declined.
insurance is another area in which there is a clash between the public and
private sectors. Average payments to patients and their families to settle
malpractice suits have risen by 260 percent in the last six years, while
insurance premiums paid by doctors’ employers – in particular, the state – rose
by 30% between 2008 and 2010. Meanwhile, doctors employed at public institutions
have their malpractice insurance funded by taxpayers’ money, and this insurance
also covers them for the private work they do. As a result, taxpayers have to
foot the bill for malpractice that took place in the private sector.
yet another example of a conflict of interests, Sheba Medical Center
director-general Prof. Zev Rotstein and Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center
directorgeneral Prof. Gabi Barbash were found to be moonlighting for five or six
different medical companies each. What happens when the interests of one of
these private companies clashes with that of Sheba or Sourasky? And the state
comptroller found other, lifethreatening faults, such as the poor treatment of
those suffering from kidney problems (Israel has the highest mortality rate for
kidney patients among 21 Western countries) and the ongoing territorial disputes
between Magen David Adom and other volunteer first aid organizations that the
Healthy Ministry has left unresolved.
UNFORTUNATELY THE ministry does not
seem to be taking the state comptroller’s report seriously. Its written response
was unsatisfactory, and the ministry refused to supply the Post with a broad
overview to explain why it had been caught with so many
Once upon a time, a given in this Jewish state was that no
Israeli citizen would be left without proper medical care. But in recent
decades, we have drifted away from this ideal, as evidenced by the State
Comptroller’s Report, and other crises that have rocked our health system.
Leadership is needed to return the health system to its past greatness. And it
just so happens that while Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman (United Torah
Judaism) is responsible for the Health Ministry’s day-to-day management, Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu technically holds the Health portfolio and is,
therefore, ultimately responsible for its faults. The time has come for
Netanyahu to face up to this responsibility.