'School health services privatization a failure'

Supreme Court says move caused "drastic reduction" in allocations for vital services.

Boy taking medicine 370 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Boy taking medicine 370
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
The government’s privatization of the School Health Service about eight years ago was an “absolute failure,” the Supreme Court declared this week.
The Health Ministry’s handover of its responsibilities to a series of three companies caused a “drastic reduction” of 31 percent in allocations for the vital service, which is meant not only to vaccinate children against disease but also to provide health education and perform physical checks.
National Council for the Child director Dr. Yitzhak Kadman – whose organization opposed privatization of the service from the outset – said on Tuesday that the “government failed in supervising the private bodies, chosen by government tender, that provided and still provide the service in schools around the country – and was forced to continue working with them after they failed.” The companies were the for-profit Association for Public Health, a subsidiary of Magen David Adom and Natali-Seculife.
The Treasury, which initiated the privatization, claimed it would save millions, but the state comptroller in several reports wrote that it was a failure and cost even more money.
Moreover, when Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman was chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, he had earlier this year come out strongly in favor of the privatization. However, in the face of the negligence – to vaccinate all children on time, not to mention provide them with checkups and health counseling – he agreed to rehire some public health nurses to provide the service from Ashkelon and southward, where it was most problematic.
Litzman has not publicly admitted to having committed a serious error by pushing for the privatization of the School Health Service, saying on Tuesday that the decision was taken “when someone else was health minister.” However, he said, until the eventual “full restoration” of responsibility for it, the ministry will “ensure the provision of efficient and professional services” for all schoolchildren.
Prof. Itamar Grotto, head of the ministry’s public health service, said a few months ago he would be happy if the whole service could be de-privatized.
In a case involving the privatized service, the court ruled that the state should carefully reassess the matter. “Is there no place for the Health Ministry to again provide these services? Privatization is not... a magic word, and it can constitute an excuse for the government to forgo its responsibilities,” the court said.
Kadman called on the ministry to “admit its failure and especially to learn lessons immediately.”
“Stop the unethical ‘medical experimentation’ of these past years at the expense of Israeli school pupils and their health,” he continued.
Kadman argued that the ministry should bring back all of the public health nurses it previously employed, and restore its budget, at minimum, to what it was at the beginning of the past decade “before the service was intentionally dried up and then privatized.” The Supreme Court “could not have provided a broader hint about the need to stop the privatization and restore preventive health care for pupils,” he said.