Doctors rap health system performance during war

IMA report says Rambam Medical Center in Haifa was overburdened but did not try to transfer patients to smaller hospitals to reduce pressure.

lebanon war trauma 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
lebanon war trauma 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Israel Medical Association has criticized the Health Ministry, hospitals and health funds for their work during last summer's war in Lebanon. In a report based on interviews with doctors and other health-care professionals in the North, the IMA said Rambam Medical Center in Haifa was overburdened with wounded soldiers and civilians, but did not try to transfer some patients to smaller hospitals to reduce the pressure. Eleven copies of the report were submitted to Health Ministry director-general Avi Yisraeli and associate director-general Boaz Lev a few weeks ago. A Channel 2 report Sunday night was based on a copy that was leaked. Following Channel 2's report, Rambam threatened to sue the IMA for libel, IMA chairman Yoram Blachar said. "We'll survive that too," he said. IMA spokeswoman Orna Cohen said the 29-page report was "not the result of an investigative committee, as the IMA does not have the tools that such a committee has. The aim was to carry out a journalistic investigation to learn from conversations and testimony received by the IMA [via e-mails and phone calls], as well as from interviews with people in the field, and to point to problems that merit investigation. "If what was presented to us is true, they are worth correcting before the next war. It should be noted that we are not making accusations or blaming anyone... The report on Channel 2 was not initiated by the IMA or its representatives. But since it already leaked out, IMA management decided to publish it to prevent issues from being taken out of context." Page four of the report reads: "This document is not the result of a deep and well-established investigation, and it is not our aim to be an investigation committee in this matter in the accepted meaning [of the term]." Health Ministry spokeswoman Inbal Jacobs, who learned of the report an hour before the Channel 2 broadcast, said: "We were widely praised during and after the war for providing and coordinating medical services. Since then, we have held numerous drills and exercises to correct any shortcomings. We are taken aback by the Israel Medical Association claims, as their members - all doctors - were an integral part of the committees responsible for planning and supplying medical services during the war." Haim Shadmi, a former Haaretz health reporter, was hired by the IMA to interview doctors, patients and others in the North, which was bombarded by Hizbullah rockets during the war. Blachar said senior Health Ministry officials read the report and made comments. "We took some of them into consideration when writing the final version," he said. "Not everything said on Channel 2 is correct or according to the spirit of our report." According to the report, information on the location of clinics, bomb shelters, names of doctors and pharmacies and how to reach them, and names of the blind, mentally ill, elderly and disabled patients were not easily accessible during the war. Such data should be readily available to authorities and kept updated, the report said. Guidelines on doctors' visits to shelters, treatment on the battlefield, protection of hospitals, payment arrangements, location of clinics and what services are available in hospitals in times of emergency should be made more clear, the report said. Cohen, the IMA spokeswoman, said, IMA representatives were not permitted by the ministry to be partners to decision-making during the war, contrary to Health Ministry statements. "In this report, we opened the door and showed the right path, we think, to improve the health system and to prepare it for the future," she said. "Now the decision on whether to cooperate with us or not is in [the hands of the ministry.]"