Cancer experts plead for expansion of health services budget

Delay in passing the 2006 budget is causing anguish among patients waiting for lifesaving drugs.

drugs 88 (photo credit: )
drugs 88
(photo credit: )
The delay in passing the 2006 budget is causing anguish among patients waiting for lifesaving drugs to be added to the basket of health services and cancer patients needing upgraded radiotherapy equipment in oncology departments and clinics. Israel Cancer Association (ICA) chairman Prof. Eliezer Robinson dispatched an urgent letter on Sunday to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Finance Minister Ehud Olmert and members of the Knesset Finance Committee pleading for allocations to meet these needs even before the budget is approved. The dispersal of the Knesset this week for the election campaign is wreaking havoc with schedules related to the budget, whose passage can be delayed for several months. A subcommittee has been appointed to discuss new drugs and medical technologies to be recommended to the basket of health services provided by the health funds, but not the full-fledged public committee that usually convenes starting mid-November to study the lists and set priorities. According to Robinson, if the money is not allocated and the committee does not present its recommendations, the lifesaving drugs cannot be added to the basket. "Cancer patients [and others] cannot wait," he wrote. "They are helplessly waiting for an update of the basket to get drugs proven effective in treating their disease." Robinson asked that at least NIS 350 million be allocated immediately to expand the basket, as happened in 2005. He said this would save the lives of thousands of patients. Robinson also called for the automatic updating of the basket by 2 percent annually to eliminate the usual wrangling between the Health and Finance Ministries over how much it would be expanded. He also said a grave shortage in modern radiotherapy equipment was threatening the lives of cancer patients. The Encol Committee, which was set up by the Health Ministry at the ICA's initiative, made detailed recommendations on this issue, including a three-year plan for purchasing equipment and training manpower, but nothing has been done. Robinson said the radiology system would collapse without it. He said cancer patients "have to fight their disease, not the budget. They must invest energy in coping with their condition and not in media exposure to get the money for drugs that aren't in the basket. Every day that passes without an answer will mean a loss of life."