The government's privatization of school health services - including vaccinations and health education - constitutes an "organized crime," according to Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, the director-general of the Israel Council for the Child, who appeared Tuesday at a session of the Knesset Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee.
The committee, headed by MK Haim Katz (Likud), demanded that the supply of school health services be restored immediately to the Health Ministry, that the nurses again be ministry employees and that the tender to be issued at the end of June to choose a replacement for the private supplier be written with "new standards to ensure a high quality of service, emphasizing quality and not the size of the budget."
Kadman told the MKs that the vaccination rate had significantly declined, and that the amount of money spent on each child had fallen from NIS 73 in 1998 to only NIS 54 in 2007. In addition, the average pupil today received only two vision tests during 12 years of studies compared to four examinations 11 years ago. Education about the dangers of smoking, alcohol and drugs; being overweight or underweight; posture and other subjects, as well as early screening for conditions that can affect children, decreased or almost disappeared, charged Kadman, who said the privatization constituted "negligence" of children.
Three years ago, without issuing a public tender, the Health Ministry - under heavy pressure from the Finance Ministry - dismissed public health nurses and chose the for-profit Association for Public Health to take over health services in the schools. When the company took over, standards quickly declined, and the new service was unable even to vaccinate all pupils with the required shots.
Kadman charged that if the association continued to provide health services, it would inevitably replace its nurses with medics (who are cheaper to employ). "The service today is a catastrophe, and it will be even worse after the issue of the public tender," Kadman charged.
Association for Public Health director Yehuda Cohen told the committee that it "operates within the limits of its budget [set by the Treasury] to give the pupils as many services as possible."
Susie Alya, a school nurse, said that she was "ashamed before the pupils," as she was required by the association to vaccinate 70 children a day, "causing the nurses to collapse from exhaustion. There are no nurses' rooms, and potentially embarrassing examinations are carried out in front of other pupils. Most seriously, we can't diagnose serious illnesses in pupils. This is absolute negligence."
The low quality of services provided by the association, whose contract has expired and which faces a public tender for the first time, was the focus of a State Comptroller's Report.
MK Dov Henin (Hadash) insisted that responsibility for school health services must be restored to the public service, as the quality of services is "lower now than what existed a decade ago."
MK Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) added that the for-profit company "is interested only in how fast the nurses work and not in the quality of their work or their attitude towards pupils... The nurses have turned into servants, all to satisfy their employer."