Nurse writing prescriptions (illustrative)..
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
The school year will open on September 1 without any nurses in the School Health Service, Ilana Cohen, head of the Israel Nurses Association in the Histadrut, has announced.
The nurses are protesting the fact that the Health Ministry reportedly has no intention of carrying out its commitment to cancel by the end of 2016 the privatization of the service in schools around the country – as previously agreed by the government.
The privatization – initiated by the Treasury nearly a decade ago despite firm opposition by Health Ministry professionals – has widely been declared a failed experiment by the state comptroller and by public health and education experts.
Treasury officials had claimed the contracted services would cost only NIS 70 million annually, but in fact the price tag was NIS 130m., with a much lower level of services to children.
The sad story of the privatization of the School Health Service was described in excruciating detail at a Tuesday symposium on the subject at Jerusalem’s Van Leer Institute, sponsored with the Ya’acov Hazan Center of the Kibbutz Movement. Some 70 professionals attended, but although Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman was listed on the program as a speaker, he chose instead to appear before a Knesset committee. There was no Treasury official at the symposium.
Speakers, including MK Orly Levy-Abecassis (former head of the Knesset Children’s Rights Committee) bemoaned the fact that not only have some children not been given the necessary immunizations over the years, but the institution of “school nurse” who educated and treated children has long become extinct .
Instead, contractors chosen by the Health and Finance ministries have provided poor service, rushing to fill their quota of vaccinations without knowing the children or taking the time to calm down the fearful. Without refrigerators and nurse rooms, the contractor nurses have to bring vaccines with them from school to school, sometimes storing them in their home refrigerators.
There was no time to talk to the children about smoking, overweight, eating disorders, drugs, sexual behavior and other preventive subjects or to examine their vision, posture, hearing or other matters properly, the speakers said.
After contractors declined to bid in recent years to provide vaccination services in the unprofitable South, with Beduin and Jewish schools spread out over large distances, the state took back its responsibility for school health services and hired public health nurses. But there remains a severe shortage of nurses, as since the privatization, many have changed professions, and some are due to work at the Assuta Medical Center due to open next year in Ashdod, where private medical services (Sharap) will take up a quarter of all services.
Now the Health Ministry has agreed to de-privatize the contractors in the North (not including Haifa), but there, too, it is not clear where it will find suitable nurses.
It was charged at the symposium that while Litzman claimed he had been forced into privatization of the School Health Service, in fact he was totally in favor and “refused to let opponents speak” at a major meeting years ago so he could push the reform through.
The speakers argued that the Treasury has a habit of “starving” vital services of funds, which causes public services to decline, and then to push for privatization, which in most cases do not meet the needs of the population and which widen the social gaps.
The speakers warned that Treasury administrators – whose mandate is to cut costs – dream of privatizing Tipat Halav (well baby) centers as well, learning nothing from their errors with the School Health Service.
Asked to comment, the Health Ministry said that it is “committed to give the best public health services to children. In recent years, the School Health Service [provided by private contractors] has brought the ministry satisfaction in all districts” with high vaccination rates and screening, unlike in the years before as criticized by the state comptroller.
As a result, said the ministry, it will continue privatization in the center of the country but de-privatize it in the North.
A full Health & Science Page feature on the Van Leer symposium will be published on Sunday, July 31.