Medical association opposes transfer of psychiatric clinics to private company

IMA calls on Tel Aviv Labor Court to issue urgent restraining order against the state.

The Treasury is seeking to transfer the Health Ministry's outpatient and community mental health clinics to a private company that has been harshly criticized by the state comptroller for failing to provide even basic immunizations to pupils since assuming responsibility for school health services from the ministry, according to the Israel Medical Association (IMA). The IMA called on the Tel Aviv Labor Court on Monday to issue an urgent restraining order against the state to prevent it from transferring responsibility for the clinics to the firm, called Public Health Association (PHA). The doctors association argued through its lawyers that the National Health Insurance Law had placed psychiatric services in the hands of the Health Ministry. However, the ministry has been seeking for years to transfer responsibility for all mental health services to the country's four public health funds, saying that placing them under the same umbrella with physical health care would reduce the stigma associated with psychiatric care. However, the health funds are demanding bigger budgets for assuming this task. Despite announcements by several health ministers that a transfer would "soon" take effect, the ministry has consistently failed to obtain Knesset approval for an amendment to the National Health Insurance Law that would enable the transfer to go through. Now, the Finance Ministry wants PHA to begin handling mental health services starting March 20 as part of an interim arrangement, and the Health Ministry has failed to put up a fight. In the previous Knesset, the Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee appointed a special sub-committee headed by then-MK Ran Cohen to discuss the transfer of mental health clinics to the health funds. The committee held discussions and concluded that a bill to this effect could not be passed before the status of the mental health clinics and the rights of their employees were ensured. More recently, Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich told Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri that the plan to privatize services would be harmful, but, according to the IMI, he did not heed her warning. The IMA believes that PHS is nothing more than a "manpower company" that the state has used to pay doctors and nurses who are not ministry staffers. The firm, it has said, "did not compete in any public tender" to run mental health clinics. Thus, the Treasury wants to turn members of the clinic staffs into contract workers without social benefits. No comment was available by press time from the Health Ministry.