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Yacimovich : Restore the National School Health Service

, 7/8/13

By JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH

07/07/2013 17:59

Opposition head calls on Health Minstry to immediately restore public health nurses, halt failing privatization.

Shelly Yacimovich at the President's residence, January 31, 2013. Photo: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post

Opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich called on the Health Ministry on Sunday to restore all of the public health nurses that seven years ago were sent to work for private contractors to operate the National School Health Service.

It was the Finance Ministry and the Knesset Finance Committee – then headed by United Torah Judaism MK Ya’acov Litzman, who later became health minister until the new government was established – that favored privatization of the National School Health Service.

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The privatization, according to a report by the state comptroller and statements by the National Council for the Child, was a disaster, and they demanded that the nurses be restored to the public service.

The comptroller found that the contractors failed to provide all elementary school pupils with the required vaccinations within the school year, let alone health education and health checkups.

There was even a scandal in which privatized nurses, forced to work too rapidly because of little time and low pay, forgot to add the powdered vaccine to water and injected some children with only the liquid. As a result, the pupils had to receive an extra shot.

However, noting the failure, Litzman restored public health nurses in schools only in the southern part of the country to giving vaccinations, performing health checks and teaching pupils about beneficial health habits. The ministry did not fight the Treasury and get all of the nurses returned to the public service.

Yacimovich said – as the Israel Nurses Association held an emergency meeting Sunday at Histadrut labor federation headquarters in Tel Aviv to protest against contractors’ firing of 100 of the privatized school nurses – that their “struggle was completely justified.”

The school nurses working for private contractors, the Labor MK said, are fighting a battle against “slave-labor conditions for women who are professional, educated and devoted.”

Yacimovich added that “the current struggle is also on behalf of pupils and preventive medicine that can sometimes save lives.

Years of using failed subcontractors put the state a long distance from the years when Israel was a model in preventive medicine and received international prizes for it, said the opposition MK.

Yacimovich noted that in another month or so, the contractors’ companies will change, while in the South, public nurses will remain.

“The Labor Party will support the cancellation of privatization via legislation or public support,” she concluded.

Asked to comment, the Health Ministry spokeswoman said the School Health Service was privatized as a result of a government decision.

From August 1, a private company named Fami and selected by public tender by the Health Ministry will replace the Natali company to operate the service, while public nurses will continue to work in the South. One hundred nurses who previously worked for Natali were fired and told to work for Fami.

The ministry said that NIS 120 million has been allocated for the School Health Service in the upcoming school year. It conceded, however, that the functioning of public nurses in the South reached the same level “and even exceeded the level” of privatized services.

The ministry did not explain why – if the public nurses “exceeded” the performance of the private contractors – the whole School Health Service has not been restored to the public sector, which was the case before 2006.

At the protest meeting in the Histadrut, Nurses Association chairman Ilana Cohen said: “It can’t be that nurses will again be handed over by one contractor to another.

They have already been dismissed more than three times in the past three years, as different contractors took over the School Health Services.”

If, by August 1, all School Health Services nurses are not taken on as state employees, there will be no school nurses, Cohen declared.

“There will be no School Health Services,” she said.

The nurses’ association chief added that today, there is one school nurse for every 5,000 pupils, compared to one per 1,500 pupils before the service was privatized.

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