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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozlimski [file])
Hospital administrators and emergency rooms are likely to be on the lookout over the coming months, now that Deputy Health Minister and United Torah Judaism MK Ya'acov Litzman has begun conducting surprise visits to the country's hospitals.
Litzman told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that he finished his usual work at the Health Ministry in his Jerusalem office late Monday and then set off to Beersheba with his driver and a few assistants. He did not ask the ministry director-general or other officials to sacrifice their sleep and accompany him. Litzman arrived at Soroka University Medical Center - the only hospital in the Negev - at about 1:30 a.m., and made a 90-minute inspection of the facility.
"I was recognized at the entrance, and the hospital's deputy director-general was awakened; he arrived soon after," Litzman recalled. "I discovered some interesting things. It was very quiet, with about 50 patients inside. There was only one full-fledged physician, plus some interns. I was told that this was due to a general shortage of doctors, as well as nurses. One doctor is not enough," the deputy minister declared.
Despite the staff being shorthanded, some patients praised the service they had received, while others complained, Litzman said.
The deputy minister said the unannounced visit to Soroka was only the first in a series. "I will go to several emergency departments on different days and at different times of the day and night. I can't come in disguise. They all know me or know how I look," he said.
The energetic Litzman said he also planned to visit health fund community clinics owned and run by the four health insurers.
Meanwhile, Litzman preferred not to comment on Tuesday's High Court of Justice ruling on a plea by the Israel Medical Association to force Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to appoint a health minister instead of a deputy health minister to run the ministry. Formally, the prime minister serves as acting health minister. Litzman's haredi party has refused since 1953 to send MKs to serve as full ministers so they don't have to share responsibility for state-sanctioned desecration of Shabbat, or other acts that violate Jewish law.
In its 44-page ruling, the High Court said it had struggled with the case. The judges noted that United Torah Judaism had had a deputy construction minister and deputy social welfare minister in the past, and that such a practice should have been stopped. Even though the current arrangement will not be affected, the justices - headed by court President Dorit Beinisch - said something must be done to deal with such cases in the future to prevent a deputy minister being put in charge of a ministry.
The three justices on the panel said that despite all the problems with the arrangement, the prime minister had the legal right to appoint a "deputy minister with the status of minister," even though it was not desirable or proper. The "concerns of the plaintiff [the Israel Medical Association] that the ministry will not be inadequately run by a deputy minister are not baseless, but it does not merit our intervention," the justices concluded. "We at no time questioned the personal abilities of Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman" to fulfill his duties. They noted that even the IMA said it was ready for him to serve as minister.
The IMA declared after reading the ruling that it was "revolutionary and unprecedented in its severity," and that "in any proper country it would have aroused a public outcry."
IMA chairman Dr. Yoram Blachar added that he did not doubt Litzman's capabilities, but hoped that in the future, only ministers would be put in charge of ministries.