Bad medicine

Year after year, it’s the same story: Winter arrives, and along with it come problems in our health system. “The old lady in the hallway” has become a cliché in Israeli reporting about shortages in hospital beds.

Jpost editorial logo  (photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Jpost editorial logo
(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Flu shots finally arrived in Israel this week, much later than usual and well into flu season.
As always, it’s important to get the flu shot. Influenza is a respiratory virus that causes coughing, which can be painful, as well as shortness of breath, fever, fatigue and muscle pain, among other symptoms. Sometimes those symptoms turn deadly – even for people who were healthy before catching the flu. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the flu causes 250,000 to 500,000 deaths worldwide every year. Last year, 80,000 people died of influenza in the US alone.
The flu shot is necessary every year because the virus has a talent for mutating. Twice a year, the WHO gives recommendations to manufacturers based on data it gathered in the previous months. Each world hemisphere looks at the other for an idea of what strains are out there, so the inoculation needed for Israelis is based on what happened in winter in Australia.
This year, the Southern Hemisphere had a very rough flu season, with more mutations of influenza than usual. This delayed the WHO’s recommendations, which is why the shots were a month late. And that means the entire Northern Hemisphere, including us in Israel, will probably have a bad flu season.
So everyone should definitely get to their local nurses’ station and get a shot as soon as possible. It’s free, and you don’t need an appointment.
Unfortunately, the influenza virus does not take into consideration Israel’s political situation, which is set to compound the expected health crisis this winter.
Year after year, it’s the same story: Winter arrives, and along with it come problems in our health system. “The old lady in the hallway” has become a cliché in Israeli reporting about shortages in hospital beds.
This year, the usual winter problems will dovetail with the delayed flu vaccine and a likely increase of influenza cases – plus the lack of a state budget, and thus no health budget, because there is no government.
The Knesset began discussing the 2020 state-subsidized health basket despite not having a defined budget. This means that it is unclear what additions – of medical services, drugs, equipment and devices that insured, permanent residents of Israel have the right to receive – can be made to the basket.
Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman committed to increasing the health basket by NIS 700 million, saying that the prime minister and finance minister know that the health system is different from other areas and needs extra funding even in an interim government.
This week, the Finance Ministry approved transferring NIS 40 million to the Health Ministry to prepare for winter emergencies.
“If the funding isn’t transferred, it will cost us in human lives,” Knesset Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni (UTJ) said.
Labor-Gesher, which campaigned on reforms to the health system, among other policies, has proposed an automatic annual increase of the health budget by at least 1.6% to avoid such problems if this kind of political deadlock comes up again in the future.
In addition, the party proposed a bill to increase the current budget by NIS 750 million, more than Litzman’s proposal.
This money is needed for more doctors, nurses, hospital rooms, administrative staff and medicine. The number of doctors and hospital beds in Israel is one of the lowest in the OECD, and this is a stain on our nation. The elderly people who are lying in the hospital hallways are the people who built the country we are currently enjoying. They deserve respect and they deserve the best medical treatment available.
For this to happen, Israel has to find a way to make the budgetary changes move smoother and faster.
Smoother, because the population is constantly increasing and aging, and faster, because the Finance Committee can take weeks, maybe even months to discuss something as major as the health budget under normal circumstances.
But we don’t have that much time this year. It may be warm outside, but flu season has arrived and winter viruses are here. Hospitals are overflowing with patients. The government needs to keep its promises and boost the health system immediately, and the Knesset should pass laws so that we don’t have annual budget shortages that are exacerbated by problematic politics in the future.