The budget cutbacks being planned for the health system will apparently include reductions in funding for improving and upgrading government psychiatric hospitals, for maintaining the public umbilical cord blood bank and for the operating budgets of nursing schools.
All told, the Health Ministry will have to slash at least NIS 11 million from its NIS 270 million headquarters budget and NIS 18 million from its development budget as its contribution to the across-the-board cut of NIS 700 million the government approved on Monday. The Knesset is due to vote on the budget on Monday.
According to a position paper prepared by the Health Ministry, the probable cuts to its headquarters budget include a cut in funding for the Umbilical Cord Blood Law, which mandates the storage of cord blood that could be used later for bone marrow transplants. It primarily serves people from ethnic backgrounds not widely represented in world registries, including those of Middle Eastern and North African origin.
Other cuts will include the emergency readiness budget; the budget of the ministry's chief scientist, whose office supports Israeli medical research; the operating budgets for nursing schools, which have been trying to overcome a serious shortage of nurses; budgets that are paid to the World Health Organization to support certain international projects; and budgets for computerization projects and rent for various ministry units. Budgets for the National Center for Disease Control, which collects information on Israeli morbidity, including data on infectious diseases, and for projects at Magen David Adom, Israel's emergency medical service, will also be slashed.
"At issue are budgets that assist in providing services to residents, even if they do not directly fund the services to residents. The ministry is working to reduce the cuts in coordination with the treasury," Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman's office said.
The NIS 18 million reduction in the development budget will primarily affect plans to upgrade psychiatric hospitals, many of which are operating with antiquated infrastructure. For example, the Mizra psychiatric hospital in Acre operates two closed wards that keep 10 patients in a room, while the Eitanim hospital in the Judean Hills has departments where patients are sometimes forced to sleep on mattresses on the floor due to overcrowding.
But the cut in the development budget will also impact hospitals in other areas. The construction and protective reinforcement project at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon is expected to be frozen, with hospital director Dr. Hezi Levy planning to hold a press conference late in the afternoon to warn of the risks of halting the construction, given that the hospital is within the range of rockets fired from Gaza.
Also likely to be frozen is a plan to build a children's hospital at Rebecca Sieff Hospital in Safed; reinforcing hospital buildings against earthquakes; and the building of new maternity facilities at the Nahariya Government Hospital. The ministry is also expected to cut its support for the upgrade of Jerusalem's Hadassah University Hospital at Ein Kerem, which is being funded primarily by the Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization of America.
Litzman expressed his opposition to the cuts Monday morning before the cabinet meeting on the issue. He is angry that his proposal to increase the health tax by 0.5% to help fund a reform in long-term nursing care had not been approved, while now all Israelis will be confronted with a broad range of additional taxes.
"For two years the treasury has opposed the long-term care reform, while we see how with one hand it is slashing health care and raising taxes in such a drastic way," Litzman said.
He also criticized the fact that there has been no funding to help the health care system cope with caring for migrant workers. "We've warned the treasury, more than once, that treating infiltrators is costing the Health Ministry some NIS 50 million at the expense of Israeli citizens," he said.
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