New Health Ministry ombudsman vows to speed up malpractice investigations

Prof. Chaim Hershko tells 'Post' he intends to deal with complaints as quickly as possible.

hershko 88 (photo credit: )
hershko 88
(photo credit: )
Prof. Chaim Hershko, one of the country's leading hematologists, has been appointed Health Ministry ombudsman for dealing with complaints about medical professionals. The 71-year-old former head of Shaare Zedek Medical Center's Internal Medicine and Hematology departments, who is a world-renowned expert in iron metabolism in health and disease, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that he intends to deal with malpractice allegations and other complaints as speedily as possible. Hershko replaces Prof. Shimon Glick, former dean of Ben-Gurion University's faculty of health sciences, who held the ministry post for over a decade. Glick was allotted only a half-time position, which was partly responsible for long delays in the handing over of decisions. Hershko, who served as Glick's deputy for five years, is seriously negotiating with the ministry to make the position full-time, so he can cope with the enormous amount of material. He is also asking for a larger office than Glick's (which couldn't hold more than three people at once), more secretarial help and a budget to pay senior physicians for professional opinions and to serve on the committees that prepare reports on cases. Until now, doctors participating in such committees were not only unpaid, but were reimbursed only for bus fare for transportation to and from meetings - if they brought the receipts in, Hershko said. This, even though such high-level doctors rarely take buses. "It is shameful; these are very experienced physicians who do hard work and are expected to volunteer their time," he said. Many people argued that the delays in the ombudsman's decisions on malpractice cases minimized medical professionals' fear of suffering any consequences from their negligence. As Glick's deputy, Hershko would often deal with cases that Glick could not work on to avoid conflict of interest, because he was personally acquainted with the people involved. Hershko's deputy will be Prof. Alan Reubinof, a former hematologist at Hadassah University Medical Center. Hershko, born in Hungary, came on aliya in 1950 with his brother Technion Prof. Avram Hershko (a Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry). He graduated from and taught at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School and was chairman of the Israel Society of Hematology and the Israel Society of Internal Medicine. The new ombudsman, who takes up his post Thursday, said lawyers' stalling tactics are one of the leading causes of long delays - sometimes years - in determining whether their clients should be rebuked or whether their licenses to practice should be suspended and even revoked. "It is the lawyers' job to filibuster, to delay investigations and hearings. However, refusal by doctors to testify against their accused colleagues is no longer a big problem," Hershko said. The father of four grown children (two doctors, one dentist and one chemist) and teacher of hundreds of young physicians who are now the leaders in their specialties, said he was "not very happy" about taking the ministry post, as it is "a very difficult job, like the state attorney."