A UNITED HATZALAH ambucycle is seen with Jerusalem in the background.
(photo credit: SHIRA HERSHKOPF/UNITED HATZALAH)
Magen David Adom, which has had a near-monopoly on the emergency ambulance service for decades, will now face competition from Israel Union of Ambulances, a new organization of private ambulances and mobile intensive care units, working together with United Hatzalah, which does not charge for any of its services.
The new “600 + 600” program will double the number of ambulances available to take emergency civilian cases to the hospital. “The program we launched today is designed to counter the ridiculous situation that 600 private ambulances, which can save lives, are unaware that there are sick, injured and dying people a few meters away,” said Moshe Teitelbaum, the CEO of United Hatzalah, who unveiled it on Sunday at a Tel Aviv press conference along with Effi Feldman, the head of Israel Union of Ambulances (IUA). They added that the arrangement will also provide an emergency response during a large-scale war.
However, the Health Ministry – which has been unable for years to get MDA to cooperate with United Hatzalah on working together to save lives, despite dramatic announcements by Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman and his director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov about “solutions” to the strife – said it “strongly opposed” the new ambulance arrangement.
United Hatzalah, which has a total of 4,000 volunteers from around the country who drop everything to reach sick and injured people via ambucycles, has purchased 25 regular ambulances in recent years that provide free services. Those who call 1221 to get help can be transported by UH ambulances if they are nearby and available for free. If not, the IUA will be contacted and will be able to send a private ambulance. Feldman estimated that even the price of a private ambulance in an emergency would be 5% to 20% cheaper than an MDA ambulance.
UH is the leading volunteer organization in Israel and the second-largest emergency medical organization in Israel. “For years, we have witnessed cases in which MDA ambulances were not available to provide a quick response to a sick patient or injured person,” said Teitelbaum. He noted that in April of last year, a three-year-old boy who swallowed a foreign object in a Kiryat Gat kindergarten suffocated to death since the MDA ambulance took half an hour to arrive. But near the preschool at that time was the intensive care unit of a private ambulance company whose staff was not even aware that a choking child was a three-minute’s drive away. “If their professional staff had been informed, they would have been able to arrive in a very short time, give medical help and perhaps save his life.”
The ministry spokesman, Eyal Basson, said it “views the move announced by UH as very serious” and that ministry officials “did not approve it. The opening of an emergency hotline for emergency medical calls from the general public, in addition to the National Emergency Hotline 101 operated according to the law by MDA, is liable to confuse the public and endanger human life and is in complete contradiction to the ministry’s position. This also contradicts the ministry director-general’s 2017 circular according to which all emergency calls must reach MDA’s 101 headquarters.”
UH officials said that even though MDA had agreed to transfer information on all emergency calls so UH ambucycles could arrive first if closer to the sick or injured person, MDA has been “transferring only about 100 calls per day to UH out of the thousands it receives.” As part of the agreement, UH decided not to advertise its 1221 number, but since “MDA is not keeping its part of the bargain, we will again advertise our number,” the UH spokesman said.
UH said MDA “has known about the arrangement for quite some time and is very worried.”
According to MDA: "This question needs to be directed to the Ministry of Health which is responsible for the Emergency Medicine in Israel."
Adding: "We emphasize that Magen David Adom is the organization as declared by law, to provide pre-hospital Emergency Medical care and does not compete with any private companies, some of which do good work. The State of Israel has laws and regulations and theerfore not everyone who dresses up as an EMT and has a motorbike with a first aid kit is allowed to or certified to play with lives and to present a false picture."
"The Israeli Ministry of Health replied that it severely disapproves of the UH announcement, and that this initiative was not approved by the Ministry. The Ministry officials said that the establishment of additional emergency medical dispatch center, beyond the National 101 Emergency Dispatch Center, operated by Magen David Adom according to the law, will confuse the general public and will directly endanger lives. The officials also mentioned that a plan for operating private ambulances for emergency calls by the 101 dispatch has already been formulated" Concluded the MDA.
The IUA has combined about one-third of all the private ambulance companies in the country, many of which have already been connected to UH’s advanced technology system, which will register in real time where each of the ambulances is located.
Another goal of the program is to decrease the number of individuals who refrain from calling ambulances because of MDA’s high service charges. “We will provide a center that will serve discounted private ambulances in Israel to the citizen in a single telephone number,” explained Feldman. “The recommended price list is now being formulated and will be published within a short period of time.”