Advocates want to nationalize school health

Ministry cancels tender for private company to supply manpower.

School nurse 311 (photo credit: Thinkstock)
School nurse 311
(photo credit: Thinkstock)
Opponents to the privatization of the School Health Service voiced objections to the Health Ministry’s decision to allow the private company to continue to operate in most of the country.
All the opponents, from the National Council for the Child to the Knesset Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee, demanded the vital service be renationalized and provided by public health nurses.
Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, who previously as Knesset Finance Committee chairman advocated privatization, said in the Knesset on Tuesday that none of the three companies competing in a public tender offered a decent proposal, thus the tender was cancelled.
The three applicants were Nataly, a cardiac rescue service; the Association for Public Health; and Bikur- Rofeh. The “association,” which despite its name is a for-profit company established by former Health Ministry officials, was found by the state comptroller to be a failure as provider of school health services. The other company, a Magen David Adom subsidiary, was chosen in a tender after the association, but also judged a failure by the comptroller.
The School Health Service is responsible not only with vaccinating school children but also with educating them to adopt healthy lifestyles and avoid smoking, drinking alcohol, taking hard drugs, eating disorders and other harmful behaviors. It also is supposed to perform checks to detect scoliosis, vision problems and others. Before privatization, the ministry’s public health nurses provided satisfactory service, and schools had their own nurse on hand much of the school day.
But the comptroller found repeated foul-ups, even failure to get all children vaccinated properly, besides the private companies’ inability to provide screening and health education. The companies claimed the Treasury – which initiated privatization and to which Health Ministry officials acceded – didn’t allocate enough money for it to be done right. The Finance Ministry had originally claimed privatization would save significant amounts of money, but the comptroller seriously doubted that.
Last year, under severe criticism and facing lawsuits, Litzman said the Southern District’s School Health Service would be supplied by public health nurses, as this area is specially problematic with the Beduin residents and those in development towns. There have been too few nurses available, but Litzman told the committee Tuesday it had allocated 87 job slots for staffers in the area.
The ministry’s explanation for the cancellation of the tender was that one of the companies made a much lower bid than the others, which put into doubt the company’s ability to provide decent service.
But the other two asked for ridiculously high amounts for the service, thus posing losses to the public purse.
The first company has been invited to respond within seven days, thus the ministry’s cancellation decision was not officially final.
Since privatization proved a failure, the Treasury has not explained why it does not agree to re-nationalization.
The Finance Ministry did not comment Tuesday.
Following the Health Ministry announcement, Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, from National Council for the Child, wrote to Litzman and Health Ministry Director- General Prof. Ronni Gamzu that, in recent days, he learned of the results of a new report with very severe criticism of the way Nataly, the current provider, has been functioning. Without revealing who wrote the report, Kadman said it would be wrong for its conclusions to be implemented only partially or in certain locations.
“We have been here before. The severe findings about the failings of the School Health Service were discovered years ago, when the Association for Public Health was the first selected to run it,” Kadman said.
“The source of the problem is not just the private company chosen. The Original Sin is irresponsible and hopeless privatization, turning a good state service that worked for dozens of years until it was financially dried up” by the Treasury, which is the usual first stage of privatization, he continued.
“The real problem is not the dirt and spider webs found in the nurses’ room or failure by nurses to wear gloves while vaccinating, or failure to properly register the vaccinations – which are themselves serious,” said the council head. The real problem is that privatization dictated the way it would have inevitably been carried out, Kadman said. One can’t and mustn’t be silent when “this insufferable game, cruel to the health and safety of 1.5 million pupils through ninth grade continues.”
Kadman charged “privatization absolutely failed at higher cost than nationalization. We received much worse service. Admit it. And [those responsible for] the failure don’t admit responsibility. More harm to children’s health must be prevented.”
He called on Litzman and Gamzu to stand at the head of those who demand nationalization and to restore the public nurses around the country.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel joined in the call for the restoration of a public School Health Service, and charged that its poor provision increased the social gap.
The Israel Medical Association also demanded renationalization of the service in the whole country.