School medical services debate delayed

Legislation calls for services to be transferred back to Health Ministry from private companies.

MK Orly Levy Abecassis (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
MK Orly Levy Abecassis
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Ministerial Committee on Legislation postponed on Sunday the scheduled discussion of a private member’s bill that would require responsibility for the School Health Service to be transferred back to the Health Ministry from private companies that have been declared failures.
The delay in discussing the bill of MK Orly Levy-Abecassis (Israel Beiteinu) and MK Dov Henin (Hadash) was at the request of Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, who said that a committee he headed will “very soon” reach decisions on whether to continue privatization of the School Health Service, which began over five years ago, or restore it to the ministry.
The union of public health nurses said after the decision that the ministerial committee had been due to discuss the return to public health nurses of the service back in January 2010, but it decided to wait “three months” until a Health Ministry committee headed by Litzman decided what to do, as the deputy minister wants now. “Now, a year and a half later, the ministerial committee has postponed a decision due to the same exact reason,” the nurses’ union said.
The union said that the discussion of the private members’ bill is due to be held in another three weeks, before the opening of the next school year.
Last week, ministry director-general Prof. Ronni Gamzu admitted publicly for the first time that the government erred in privatizing the School Health Service. Gamzu, who took office a year ago, was speaking before the Knesset Labor, Social Welfare and Health Committee.
He told the committee that Nataly would continue running the service privately for another school year because it had not issued a new tender in time and lacked 300 public health nurse job slots to enable his ministry to carry it out – if the Treasury agreed.
Privatization of school nurses’ services was initiated by the Treasury to “save money” when in fact it cost more and significantly lowered the level of services, according to a State Comptroller’s Report. Health Ministry officials privately objected many times to the move but proved too weak to change the Finance Ministry’s decision, but did not voice its opposition publicly. Since taking office two and a half years ago, Litzman – who previously as head of the Knesset Finance Committee backed privatization – has not come out publicly against it.
The state comptroller and Knesset committees have been highly critical of the privatization, saying that a series of three private companies had failed and not even managed to complete the vaccination of all children who should have received their injections to protect them against infectious diseases. Beyond vaccination, the private nurses were supposed to give health promotion instruction and conduct health checks of all the children but never got around to it.