Israeli Education Ministry officials have announced that the ministry will transfer responsibility for medical services provided to special-needs school students to the Health Ministry about a year from now, according to internal Educational Ministry correspondence. But Health Ministry officials say that no decision on the matter has been made, and that the responsibility will remain in the hands of the Education Ministry.
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At present, the services are provided via tender to about 30,000 special-education school students and about 1,000 students in the regular school system. According to attorney Revital Lan-Cohen of the Coalition of Parents of Children with Special Needs, “Two government ministries are playing ping-pong with our children’s futures.”
About two months ago, Haaretz reported that the new tender for providing medical services to students in special education, which had been issued by the Education Ministry, contained a lessening of the conditions as compared with those in the previous tender, setting lower demands than were contained in the tender for health services provided to students in the regular education system.
Among other things, the tender stated that a physician would be responsible for 540 students instead of 450 children and teenagers (an addition of 20 percent), abolished the linkage of nurses’ salaries to a collective wage agreement, and the price component in the proposal submitted by the contracting company was higher. The tender drew harsh criticism from parents, who cautioned against the reduction in the level of medical services, and it was also discussed in a joint meeting of the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee and the Knesset Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Education Ministry officials chose not to comment on the complaints about the new tender, saying only: “The criticism of the topics included in the tender are being discussed in the ministry.”
It has become clear that much of the criticism is justified. “The new tender was found to contain problems in various subjects that require the tender to be amended,” read the summation of the meeting on July 14 of the Education Ministry’s purchasing committee, which is responsible for communication with private agencies.
Because of these problems, Education Ministry officials asked for another year’s extension of the existing contract with Femi Premium, the company that provides the medical services. In a hearing on July 20 in the Finance Ministry, in which the request was approved, it was written after the tender had been published, “criticism of the services was expressed, together with criticism of the ratio between the weekly hour of medical treatment by a physician and the number of students, as well as the cost of hiring a nurse at hours and pay that were lower than those stipulated in the nurses’ collective agreement.”
Education Ministry documents state explicitly that the ministry “is working to transfer the tender to the Health Ministry, which is the agency authorized to determine the requirements and conditions in the medical and nursing fields.” The documents also state that “since the intention is to transfer the service to the Health Ministry’s purview in a year, there is no reason for a substantial amendment [of the new tender].”
In a meeting at the Finance Ministry, which was based on an official update by the Education Ministry, it was written that in the wake of the criticism of the new tender, officials of “the Education Ministry and the Health Ministry had decided to return responsibility for the services to the Health Ministry, starting in the 2016 school year.”
Health Ministry officials were surprised on Tuesday to hear that they had received responsibility for the topic. “Responsibility for providing medical services to students in the special-education system remains with the Education Ministry,” they said. “The decision is that the Health Ministry will be involved in the tender process and provide it with professional support.”
In reply to a query from Haaretz, Health Ministry spokeswoman Hagit Cohen said, “The issue is being discussed by the Education Ministry and the Health Ministry.”
“The freezing of the new tender has not straightened out the mess regarding medical treatment for our children,” Lan-Cohen said. “It seems that the Education Ministry is trying to push off the responsibility and that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. While we have no opposition, in principle, to medical services being provided directly by the Health Ministry instead of by a subcontractor, it is inconceivable that the ministry should make the decision unilaterally without involving the parents’ groups.”