Litzman announces plan to de-privatize health service

Nurses union demands state take control nationwide, voices refusal to work with private contractors.

Yaacov Litzman 300 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Yaacov Litzman 300
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Union of Public Health Nurses expressed dissatisfaction on Tuesday with Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman’s plans to de-privatize school health services in the south.
Instead, they demanded that vital service throughout the country be run by nurses who work for the ministry and said that not a single public nurse will sign a contract with a private contractor.
The school health service, which under Treasury pressure was privatized a few years ago, is theoretically responsible not only for vaccinations but also medical checks, health promotion and first aid. But according to strong critics of the handover to private contractors – including the State Comptroller and public health experts – privatization has been a major failure, and the succession of companies failed even to give all the vaccinations.
The Treasury claimed it would save millions of shekels, but this was found by the comptroller to be baseless.
The Health Ministry reluctantly agreed to privatization, but when Litzman was Knesset Finance Committee chairman, he supported it and helped get the use of contractors approved.
Speaking before the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee on Tuesday, Litzman said: “We will take in school nurses in the south as state workers. We will think about the rest of the regions.”
In a noisy meeting of the committee, the tender issued by the Health Ministry for a new contractor to take over services in most of the country’s schools was discussed in a session initiated by Hadash MK Dov Henin, Israel Beitenu MK Orly Levy-Abecassis and Labor MK Raleb Majadle.
Acting committee head Levy- Abecassis charged that “the state forgoes billions of shekels to tycoons [as in rights to offshore natural gas finds] but it tries to save NIS 7 million for school health services for our children. The Treasury misleads the government and the Knesset and presents false calculations. I am worried about the country if this is the way it is run,” she said.
Henin said that according to reports, since privatization there has been a sharp decline in the number of vision and hearing tests and an absolute disappearance of lessons for health promotion.
Litzman maintained that the conditions in the new public tender “have been changed significantly for the better. I decided that from Ashkelon southwards, the school health service will be returned to public hands because the situation there in specially difficult. If we see that we succeeded – and I will try with all my power to do this – we will think about returning the school health service to the state in other regions as well.
Henin reminded the deputy health minister that during the existence of the previous Knesset, Litzman had endorsed making the whole service public again.
“We have harmed the schools’ ability to give holistic care to pupils. There is a drastic reduction in vaccinations, and research shows that indirect employment of workers is more expensive than state workers because of the cost of the middleman. For God’s sake, what else is needed to restore the service to state hands?”
Other MKs noted that the institution of the in-house school nurse was well accepted during the earlier years of the state, but as the country grew more wealthy, Israel “couldn’t afford” to keep her.
In 1997, when public health nurses still ran the service, there was one per 1,600 pupils.
Last year, a few years after privatization, one contractual nurse was responsible for 5,000 students.
Yair Zilberstein, the liaison for health in the Finance Ministry, said that if every school had a nurse to take care of the pupils, it would cost “a billion shekels and 100 more job slots.” But Levy-Abecassis denied the figures and demanded that the two ministries recalculate them.
The Israel Medical Association, a strong opponent of the privatization, said that the failure of the contracted services is liable to endanger the health of a million pupils in grades one to nine. It added that nurses and doctors working for a contractor have no special room to work from and not even a basin in which to wash their hands.