Hospitals angry over report on failures during war

The IMA publication claims serious shortcomings in the northern hospitals, the health funds and the Health Ministry during the Second War in Lebanon.

airlift soldier 298 ap (photo credit: AP)
airlift soldier 298 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Directors of the nation's public hospitals issued an unprecedented call on Thursday for the resignation of the heads of the Israel Medical Association (IMA), of which - as physicians - they are members. The controversy erupted Sunday with the publication of an IMA report, based on interviews by a former health journalist, claiming serious shortcomings in northern hospitals, the health funds and the Health Ministry during the Second War in Lebanon and the rocket attacks on the North. The call for the resignations, reported officially by the Health Ministry spokeswoman, was issued during a meeting by hospital directors with Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri, who has already denounced the IMA report. The hospital directors threatened to resign from the IMA, which is the professional union representing 20,000 doctors around the country. They were even more extreme in their reaction to the report than Ben-Yizri. In addition to demanding the resignation of IMA chairman Dr. Yoram Blachar and considering the possibility of resigning from the IMA, some of the hospital directors called for an investigation of the association's financial situation. Others said the IMA report "violated all ethical codes" that bind physicians. They decided to "launch activities that will return the IMA to its original functions" as a doctors union. In the report - based on interviews by former journalist-turned-theater-graduate Haim Shadmi with doctors and other health-care professionals in the North - the IMA said Haifa's Rambam Medical Center 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, but Blachar said: "We'll survive that too." Blachar maintained on Thursday night that "vested interests jumped on the opportunity to attack the IMA, which is not afraid to raise painful subjects such as the destruction of public medicine... by not updating the basket of health services, lack of equity in health services, destroyed infrastructures in hospitals, shameful hospitalization conditions that endanger the public, the difficult conditions in neonatal intensive care units and radiology institutes. The Health Ministry statement reeks of the odor of Bolshevism, of shutting mouths." He added that in other forums, the IMA had praised doctors and other staffers for treating the wounded during the war, sometimes at risk to themselves. The criticism in the IMA document relates only to organizational and management personnel, he said. IMA spokeswoman Orna Cohen said when releasing the 29-page report that it 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. "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.]" "If what was presented to us is true," Cohen added, "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." The Health Ministry reacted to the report by saying: "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 IMA claims, as their members - all doctors - were an integral part of the committees responsible for planning and supplying medical services during the war." 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 clearer, the report said. 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]."