‘Public nurses should return to all schools’

Adva Center survey shows return of government medical services saves money and improves service for pupils.

School children walking 260 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
School children walking 260
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
The return of public health nurses to the School Health Service in the South brings the maximum service to children at minimum cost, according to the Adva Center for Equality and Social Justice.
The Health and Finance ministries – which initiated the privatization of the School Health Service some seven years ago with the explanation that it would “save money and improve service” – should restore service in the schools throughout the country, said Adva director Barbara Swirsky on Sunday.
The previous state comptroller, Micha Lindenstrauss, castigated the decision by the Treasury, with the Health Ministry’s consent, to privatize the service. The School Health Service not only vaccinates schoolchildren but also provides health checkups (for various issues including posture, weight, vision and hearing) and health education against eating disorders, smoking, drinking alcohol and taking drugs.
But the private companies chosen by the Health Ministry via a public tender caused a deterioration in services, the comptroller said.
The National Council for the Child, headed by Dr. Yitzhak Kadman, condemned the privatization as well and called it a disaster.
Adva said that using an external contractor to operate the service, saying it was “cheaper,” resulted in “higher costs and a decline in professionalism.”
Now, in a new report, Adva said that since March, the reintroduction of public nurses in the South has improved performance.
Adva was commenting on the ministry decision last March to reinstate public health nurses in the South, where the large number of Beduin and other low-income populations have suffered more than other socioeconomic groups as a result of the privatization.
“The public health nurses, who are state employees, are now present in the schools [in the South] and know the pupils. They not only vaccinated but also conducted a series of health checkups and follow- ups in cases that required treatment,” said Swirsky.
Deputy Health Minister MK Ya’acov Litzman – who, while serving as the Knesset Finance Committee chairman advocated privatization – restored the public service last year, saying the original move had been a mistake.
The cost of contractor nurses in the rest of the country (excluding the South) was NIS 90 million a year when provided by the Natali and Pemi Premium companies, said Adva. But with the public health nurses restored in the South, 90 percent of first-graders were vaccinated this year, compared to only 66% in 2011.
While using public health nurses, the services in the South increased the number of nurses, so that the average ratio of nurses to pupils was one per 2,800; the contractor nurses had a ratio of only one per 5,000.
Today, 17% of all school pupils enjoy healthcare from public nurses.
Thus, using contractor nurses in the majority of the country cost more and provided poorer service, Adva said.
Swirsky continued that if all the country’s pupils were treated by public nurses, the cost would total NIS 118m., while if by contractor nurses, the cost would be NIS 194m.
No comment was received from the Health Ministry.