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Waiting times for certain common operations, such as cataract or prostate surgery, can take a year or more in some government hospitals, according to data prepared by the Knesset's Center for Research and Information and discussed Tuesday by the Knesset Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee.
Committee chairman MK Moshe Sharoni said that the ministry has no idea how many elective (non-emergency) operations are carried out each year in the country's hospitals or their waiting times.
But the research unit studied the matter and found patients wait months, a year or even more for operations that are high in demand. "It is unthinkable," said Sharoni, "that a patient who pays health taxes for years has to wait so long."
Ministry Director-General Prof. Avi Yisraeli said that any effort to shorten queues for elective surgery costs money: changing the "capping formula" of how much health funds may pay for treatment of their patients in hospitals; expanding the hospitals' purchasing budgets; paying incentives to surgeons and anesthesiologists; and expanding the number of beds. Yisraeli admitted that the minsitry did not have the tools to collect the necessary data or a monitoring system for queue lengths.
MK Arye Eldad, a maxillofacial surgeon by profession, said queues can be reduced by referring patients from one hospital, where the lines are long, to another hospital, where the waiting period is shorter.
The health funds, he said, must be required to give referrals and not to limit members to having surgery in certain hospitals - especially those that they own.
Clalit Health Services representative Dr. Carlos Gruzman denied this, saying the health fund would give a referral to any member who needed another hospital for surgery instead of one where the waiting period was long. Ronen Harel of Maccabi Health Services agreed, but said that if hospitals provided information on queues on their Web sites, information would be transparent and patients could be referred more easily to hospitals where the queues are shorter.
The committee demanded that the ministry take action to require all the insurers to provide referral forms to patients for undergoing elective surgery in any hospital they chose.
The committee also said that payment ceilings set by the Treasury prevented public hospitals from offering operations during second shifts, forcing patients who want quicker surgery to use private hospitals. Within 90 days, the Health Ministry must prepare a plan to shorten queues for surgery, the committee stated.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri on Tuesday announced at the Ben-Gurion University Conference on Child Welfare that he would do his best to cancel annual fees for family health (Tipat Halav) centers and to include in the health basket dental care for children up to the age of 12 .