Knesset committee hears conflicting voices on whether mental health reform is succeeding

The reform transferred responsibility for mental health treatment from the ministry’s hands to those of the four health funds.

Ya'acov Litzman, the deputy health minister (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Ya'acov Litzman, the deputy health minister
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman promised on Tuesday that mental health professionals would not be dismissed as part of the psychiatric reform that was launched on July 1. The reform transferred responsibility for mental health treatment from the ministry to the four health funds.
Speaking in the Knesset Labor, Social Welfare and Health Committee, Litzman said his office had been “carefully following” implementation of the reform since it began and “correcting any problems in real time.”
“We intend to have the health funds open additional mental health clinics and expand services,” he said. “There is no strangulation of budgets for existing services; we will ensure patients’ privacy, and money that we allocated for psychiatric services will not be swallowed up by other services.”
Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman Tov said that the reform – which has been waiting decades for implementation since a state commission recommended it – “is one of the most complicated to carry out in any system. We are aware of its sensitivity. Any person who needs treatment for emotional distress will receive it.”
However, Zionist Union MK Michal Biran told Litzman that “just promising no one will be fired is not enough; the commitment must be part of an agreement. If not, the next minister will not feel obliged to carry out your promise.”
Asked about claims that girls with eating disorders had been waiting for over a year for treatment, Bar Siman Tov said, “This is unreasonable. We will deal with this.”
He added that “the health funds are instructed to treat their members without charge. If we hear that they are doing otherwise, we will handle them. I am the last one who is willing to turn the service into private medical care.”
Meanwhile, Likud MK Nurit Koren protested the fact that patients’ mental health records would be open to health fund physicians who were not the members’ family doctors. A victim of sexual abuse, Koren said she had not agreed to have her personal information transferred to her health fund, “but it was, and every clerk saw it.”
Social workers’ union Tsafra Dwek added: “many patients asked to stop their mental health treatment because they feared for their privacy.”
Although committee chairman Eli Alalouf (Kulanu) stated that “there is no shame in getting psychological help,” Dwek noted that ultra-Orthodox Jews who are diagnosed as having emotional problems have difficulty finding marriage partners.
The head of the psychologists’ and social workers’ forum, Hanna Strum-Cohen, argued that there had been “complete chaos” since the reform began.
“Professionals are making psychiatric diagnoses, because without one, their patients are not entitled to treatment,” she said. “This is not professional or ethical. There is also a huge shortage of doctors in the mental health stations.”
In response, Alalouf said, “I don’t want to see a person suffer by the wayside until the system finishes organizing itself in an [optimal] way. But we will not give up. We will carry out close supervision of the reform.”