The Health Ministry claims that the absence of any alternatives has forced it to retain the services of medical service firm Natali in the nation's schools, despite the company being disqualified for two years by the Supreme Court in February. Data showed that the firm failed to administer vaccinations or checkups to as many children as required by their tender; the company disputes the figures.
The current contract with Natali, which was awarded after school medical care was privatized in 2007, was due to expire next week. However, the Health Ministry encountered difficulties finding another service provider and therefore asked Natali to continue to provide the medical care despite the ministry's own criticism of the firm.
The ministry is shortly expected to ask for court approval to extend Natali's contract. MKs Haim Katz (Likud ) and Shelly Yachimovich (Labor ) are sponsoring legislation that would reverse the privatization of school health services.
Although the accuracy of the data has been disputed by Natali, the ministry reported that, as of June 12, the firm had failed to vaccine a quarter of the children who should have been inoculated and had not given children the required medical checkups during the school year.
Among the country's first graders, for example, 24 percent had failed to be vaccinated against measles, mumps, German measles and chicken pox; over 80 percent had not received the required medical exam. Among eighth graders, 31 percent had not been inoculated against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus.
As a condition of its current contract in the country's schools, Natali was to vaccinate more than 90 percent of students. Yesterday, Natali announced plans to set up locations where children who had not been vaccinated could get the required inoculations over the summer.
Natali said the ministry's figures were not up-to-date, contending they were based on data from a reporting system introduced in January that has experienced numerous problems. This then made it difficult for the company to relay current data.
"The many difficulties and deficiencies of the system have been reported regularly to the Health Ministry and we are still burdened by daily problems in its operation, therefore some of the reporting does not appear in the system," the firm said, adding: "Natali has been devoting its full energies since the beginning of the year to vaccinate [children] and to carry out all of the examinations for the entire student population, and has improved and continues to significantly improve student health services."
According to ministry figures, some localities have had particularly low vaccination rates. In Beit Shemesh, for example, as of mid-May, only three percent of first graders had been vaccinated against measles, mumps, German measles and chicken pox, and no eighth graders had received inoculations against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus.
Among the Tel Aviv suburbs where the data showed low overall vaccination rates were Ramat Hasharon (44 percent ), Bnei Brak (60 percent ), Herzliya (74 percent ) and Givatayim (79 percent ).
The ministry said it had been closely monitoring the level of service provided and was displeased with the situation, taking a grave view of the low rate of coverage reflected in the data, although it noted an improvement recently. Natali was asked to submit a plan to bridge the gaps in service and would be required to attain 100 percent coverage by the end of the next school year, the ministry added.
A replacement for Natali is being looked into for subsequent school years, the Health Ministry said. "We do not foresee the possibility of a switch to a new provider in the coming year and believe it would not be right to change how the service is provided in the middle of the year," the ministry explained.
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