Prime Minister (and, formal) Health Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Deputy Health Minister MK Ya’acov Litzman.
(photo credit: JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH)
Making an appearance at the Health Ministry for the second time in a month, Prime Minister and Health Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on the first day of the implementation of the country’s mental health reform that, “We all have psyches and have to make sure they are healthy. The State of Israel always did this, [but] in recent years we realized that we have to allocate more resources for it.”
First proposed by a state commission headed by his aunt, then-Supreme Court justice Shoshana Netanyahu in 1989, the reform hands responsibility for mental health care from the Health Ministry to the four public health funds.
The government decided on the shift three years ago, but it took much time to prepare for implementation.
Sixty-one new mental health clinics; additional social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists; and NIS 300 million in funds were added to the system to improve treatment in the periphery and the center of the country.
“This is real news for justice and equality,” said the premier, who as formal health minister during Deputy Health Minister MK Ya’acov Litzman’s previous tenure until two years ago had never attended a Health Ministry press conference. Netanyahu went all out to praise the United Torah Judaism MK, whose colleagues are so important to his bare-majority government.
“This is the second time within a month that the prime minister has come here – it shows he’s serious,” said Litzman, whose ultra-Orthodox party does not believe in taking full formal responsibility for the government and thus sends representatives as deputy ministers and not as full ministers.
The press conference was poorly attended and Netanyahu did not stay for questions from the press.
“It is the first time we have equalized the mental and physical in health care, and we are expanding it to the periphery, to haredim and to Arabs equally,” said Litzman, who has admitted that, during his first term, he had opposed the reform but has since found no alternative.
Outside the ministry’s headquarters was a small demonstration by social workers and psychologists, whose union declared a work dispute over the reform, claiming negotiations to secure their workplace future and the success of the reform had not been completed.
Netanyahu spoke with even more urgency and enthusiasm about the government’s proposed “outline” for natural gas deals, which is having much difficulty getting approved by the Knesset.
“God gave us this gift,” he declared. “We have to take it out of the ground and use it. One can’t do it without investors. The gas will be the main source for providing electricity at power stations.
I am not willing to leave the country with only one underwater natural gas field. We need many and a large number of pipelines.
“Due to populism and too much regulation, the gas could otherwise remain in the Earth. This happened in Egypt and elsewhere.
We can use this income for many good uses, including to improve health,” he added.
Joint List MK Dov Henin, who chairs the Public Health Lobby in the Knesset and is a leading opponent of the reform, said that “responsibility for mental health care must remain in the hands of the government.”