ER waits average three hours, occasionally causing permanent disability and even death

The Health Ministry will soon create a smartphone app that will report on how fast it should take to reach the nearest emergency room.

MK ILAN GILON (Meretz) hears an explanation from a physician at the Knesset yesterday during the legislature’s second annual Health Day (photo credit: KNESSET)
MK ILAN GILON (Meretz) hears an explanation from a physician at the Knesset yesterday during the legislature’s second annual Health Day
(photo credit: KNESSET)
The Health Ministry will soon create a smartphone app that will report on how fast it should take to reach the nearest emergency room, and on the estimated time one would have to wait there for treatment.
The app was announced Tuesday at a meeting of the Knesset State Control Committee on the second annual Knesset Health Day, organized by the Israel Medical Association (IMA). Various types of physicians were on duty for a few hours in the Knesset to offer medical screening tests to MKs, visitors and employees.
MK Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid), who chairs the committee, said action must be taken now to improve ERs.
“The State Comptroller has said that patients died or became permanently disabled because their medical problems were not identified in time. The quality of service there directly and indirectly affects people’s health in the short and long term,” Elharar said.
“The Health Ministry can’t wait every year until the emergency rooms collapse under the burden, which is growing every year,” she added.
At present, the average wait in an ER is three hours, but each case depends on the seriousness of the condition and the time of the day and year. There are some three million emergency room visits annually.
The comptroller found that no maximum amount of time for a doctor coming and giving treatment had been set. In addition, there was no policy on urgent care facilities – some of which are unlicensed – Elharar said.
Health Ministry associate director-general Prof. Arnon Afek said that in the coming year, some NIS 70 million would be allocated for improving ERs, and that NIS 105 million would be budgeted for the same purpose in 2017. Sixty manpower slots for physician’s assistants will, for the first time, be allocated.
Dr. Jackie Or, head of the ER at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, pointed out that most emergency rooms around the country employ doctors who are not specialists in urgent care or other relevant specialties.
He called for giving doctors better pay to keep them in public medicine. He also maintained that over a third of ER patients do not have to be there and could be treated well at health fund clinics in the community.
Another Knesset meeting to mark Health Day focused on women’s health and fertility.
It was organized at the initiative of Zionist Union MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin and Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi – who is also a gynecologist. Only a few MKs attended, but various doctors turned up to speak.
Experts discussed fertility treatments and whether they caused higher risk for specific types of cancer. They also discussed the need to include in the basket of health services the freezing of women’s ova, which would enable them to become impregnated at a later time, and how hard it can be for women to get married because younger men die in the military, go abroad for work or prefer much younger partners. It was also argued that many poor women cannot afford Pap smears to screen for cervical cancer.
The Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee heard that there had been 58 people with serious complications of the flu so far this winter, and that four had died. Representatives from the Maccabi and Clalit health funds said they still had flu vaccines, but that “people are not coming for them.”
Despite all the publicity about flu deaths, only 20 percent of the population has been vaccinated so far this season, compared to 21% a year ago.
The supply of flu vaccines in the middle of the season is often limited, Health Ministry officials said. Immediately after the news spread about the death of a 54-year-old woman, 30,000 came for shots rather than the usual 3,000 a day.
MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism) said the public was confused.
“One day, the health funds call on people to come in for a shot, while the next day, they say their supply has run out,” He said.
Tibi said he couldn’t understand why there was such disorder.
“It is not a new virus we didn’t know about before,” he said. “It’s a project that returns every year.”
MK Eli Alalouf (Kulanu), who chairs the committee, said Internet campaigns by the ministry weren’t reaching the poor, the elderly and many ultra-Orthodox Jews. He added that the ministry should be more proactive in directing the health funds about ordering and giving flu shots.
The committee also discussed the connection between poverty and illness, with Alalouf saying he lost his father when he was four years old and that his mother raised 10 children alone.
“One can free oneself of poverty,” he said, “but no school of social work has a course on how to do this.”
MK Yael German (Yesh Atid), a former health minister, said most disease comes from the environment and an unhealthy lifestyle, and not from genes.
She noted that it had been some six years since the Treasury updated the amount of money needed (NIS 300 million) to expand the basket of health services each year.
Dr. Bishara Bisharat, head of the English Hospital in Nazareth and head of the Society for Health Promotion in the Arab Sector, said that if the government subsidized the price of whole wheat instead of white bread, people’s sugar levels and risk of diabetes would drop significantly.
All hospitals except his own, Bisharat said, serve white bread to patients to lower costs.
(Ironically, participants at the Knesset’s Health Day sessions were not served healthy refreshments.
All the baked goods – burekas, pastry and cookies – were full of dangerous trans fats. In addition, the vending machines in the second-floor cafeteria were packed with junk food, from potato chips to high-sugar chocolate snacks and colas.