Heal health care

It is a system in trouble, and everyone knows it.

Doctors treat internal medicine ward patients in Israeli hospital corridors (photo credit: Courtesy)
Doctors treat internal medicine ward patients in Israeli hospital corridors
(photo credit: Courtesy)
This week’s medical news, reported exclusively by The Jerusalem Post’s Maayan Hoffman, was nothing short of earth-shattering: the distinct possibility that Israeli scientists in the not-too-distant future will have found a cure for cancer.
We can only hope and pray that further testing does lead soon to the eradication of this scourge, which remains a major cause of death nearly 50 years after the war on cancer began. 
But the pressing needs in the rest of the world of medicine are also urgent, and particularly so here in Israel.
It is a system in trouble, and everyone knows it. Who has not been disgusted seeing the regular TV reports of elderly patients lying helplessly in beds in a hospital corridor, waiting for an available room?
Even while life expectancy in Israel is one of the highest in the world, the country still faces a shortage of doctors, nurses, hospital beds and medical equipment, and puts up with a “normal” waiting time for a doctor’s appointment that borders on obscene.
According to per capita statistics in a recent Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development report, Israel spends $2,834 per capita on health care – and 23 of the 36 OECD countries spend more; 18 countries have more doctors per capita; 30 countries have more nurses; 33 have more medical graduates; and 26 countries have more nursing graduates per capita.
Similar findings were reported in the Taub Center report released last month, which found that the health-care system in Israel is itself on life support. According to the report, countries with similar healthcare systems pay 11% of their GDP on health care, while Israel spends a third less – only 7.4%.
Must Israel continue to rank near the bottom of the OECD in its per capita ratio of MRI machines, CT scanners and available hospital rooms?
We know that the quality of medical care itself is indeed very high in Israel, and the proof is in the ever-growing number of medical tourists who come to Israel for treatment.
While that greatly benefits Israel’s economy, it also puts added pressure on the collapsing system: the influx of foreign patients leads to longer wait times for domestic residents, amid reports that some doctors have been paid under-the-table for their services.
It is ironic that the name of the health care system in Israel is known as kupat cholim, which is called the health fund but literally translates as sick fund. How apropos.
This is a calamity that can only get worse – as the population continues aging and living longer – unless preventive medicine is applied to the crisis immediately. And here we might be in luck: As we now find ourselves in an election season, with candidates prepared to pledge all sorts of things to people, we strongly urge each and every party to put aside the platitudes and promises and address this severe predicament.
What’s your plan, party leader? Forget right-wing/left-wing, religious/secular, Jew/Arab – we are talking about life and death, right now. What are you going to do about a crumbling medical infrastructure that has limited resources; an overburdened health system that is stretched beyond its already extended limits?
This was the message delivered yesterday in an open letter to Israel Resilience Party head Benny Gantz by the Israel Medicine Association, following Gantz’s first major political speech on Tuesday night.
The IMA decried “the unbearable, overcrowded and shameful conditions of hospitalization, and our inability to provide proper medical care as we would like, which the residents of Israel deserve,” and called for “a state of emergency to be declared in the health system.”
One of the problems is the inability to create new medical schools and new hospitals, because of the proprietary pushback from the schools and medical centers that already exist. But in a country as wealthy as Israel, every city is entitled to provide its citizens with the very best healthcare possible. There should not be a situation where anyone needs to wait for anything – and it should not take months to get an appointment.
We appeal to candidates to dispense with the slogans and to put forth viable practical solutions to this medical emergency. Our lives depend on it.