Hospitals Told to Keep Tabs on Surgery Waiting Times

Neither hospitals nor the Health Ministry have collected data on waiting periods for surgery, despite State Comptroller criticism.

The Health Ministry intends next month to start requiring hospitals to report on how long patients have to wait for 10 different kinds of surgery.

Neither hospitals nor the Health Ministry have collected data on waiting periods for surgery, even though a May 2009 State Comptroller's Report harshly criticized the long waiting periods for essential surgical procedures.

The comptroller's report noted that such waiting periods also applied to cancer patients.

For example, in one hospital the waiting period for removal of a tumorous kidney was two to three months, while the waiting period for the removal of cancerous tumors in the bladder was three months.

A year before that report came out, the comptroller announced his intention to introduce systematic scrutiny of waiting periods for surgery, but it has not come about.

The Health Ministry cites a variety of reasons for why waiting periods are so long, including poor use of human resources and infrastructure, inefficiency by suppliers and insurers, and demands by health maintenance organizations for a cap on procedures that are money-losers for them.

Prof. Arnon Afek, who heads the ministry's medical administration and who is instituting the new project, says monitoring waiting periods for surgery will ensure that hospital resources are more efficiently deployed.

Afek noted that the 1994 State Health Insurance Law requires that state-funded health services be rendered in a reasonable amount of time.

Doctors who testified before the state comptroller during preparation of his 2009 report said long waiting periods for even routine surgery can have adverse medical effects: Children waiting for a tonsillectomy can suffer from sleep apnea; long waits for pediatric ear surgery can cause infection in the ear drum - not to mention the danger to patients' lives from long waits for cancer surgery.

In the past, health maintainance organizations avoided reporting on their waiting periods to see specialists, provided it only after a court order in 2009.

The Israel Dermatologists Association said the normal waiting time to see their specialists is one to two months, but in urgent cases the wait is only a few days.

The Health Ministry said it was working to increase communication between HMOs and hospitals, and seeking agreements with the Finance Ministry to add doctors to the system and use existing medical services more efficiently.