When Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov Hospital) CEO and former Ministry of Health director general Ronni Gamzu heard that Blue and White Party chairman MK Benny Gantz had stated that 5,000 people were dying every year "because of the collapsing health system," he was enraged about what he calls "demagogic manipulation." He was especially angry in this case because as Ministry of Health director general, he was indirectly responsible for the "Case 5,000" headline. In 2012, he said that that was the number of people dying annually in Israel of infections.
"I was the first to use the number 5,000," he tells "Globes." "I'm the one who put it into the State Comptroller's report, and I'm angry, because I never imagined that it would be manipulated like this."
"Globes": Is the number incorrect?
Gamzu: "I gave this number in 2012 merely as an estimate. I think it has gone down since, but even then, it was a very rough estimate, and I don't think it's right to talk about a numerical target in this context. 130,000 people die in Israel each year, and it's not necessarily connected to a mistaken policy or crowding in the hospitals. It's true that there are diseases, and the per capita number of beds is low, but that's not really the worst problem."
What is the worst problem in the health system?
"The Israeli health system has the same problems as similar health systems all over the Western world, but it's also moving in the right directions. Look what happened here just in the past decade: a reform in mental health, a reform in dental health, a general nursing reform, and more. Beds were added to the hospitals, and the system is definitely not collapsing. The big difficulty is not in the hospitals; it's in the availability of doctors in the community. The health funds have a problem with the boom in private medicine."
Thinks highly of Litzman, does not criticize Netanyahu
It is clear to Gamzu that the timing of his comments on the eve of elections is incendiary. It is clear to him that what he says may be used politically, but he cannot remain silent.
"I'm speaking out because I'm worried about demagogy and bringing politics into professional health matters," he says. "The thought that people will hear this political campaign and be afraid drives me crazy. A person can tell himself, 'I'm going to have an operation in private medicine, because hospitals are scary - people are dying there.' That's why I can't keep quiet.
"There are other public systems with more urgent needs, such as education, for example, or transportation. When they take the health system and undermine public trust in it, it makes me angry."
Why do you think that Gantz chose this issue?
"Why? Because crowding in hospitals photographs well. I've never sided with the government until now. I exchanged harsh words with Netanyahu for years, but I'm unwilling to have the health system become a political weapon. We're an aging country with a burden of chronic disease, a burden on the community, and an unbearable burden on the health funds, but they don't talk about this much. Why? Again, because it doesn't photograph well.
"It's also easy to criticize a haredi minister, and I tell you that Yaakov Litzman is the best health minister that Israel has ever had. He is an exemplary health minister. It's true that he had two or three tough years at the beginning, but I think that the very fact that he asked to be minister of health again and again means a lot, and he has done great things."
You are ignoring the criticism of him, the suspicions against him, including the question marks about his sponsorship of Malka Leifer - a pedophile.
"I don't know about Malka Leifer, but I can tell you that I was director general under Litzman for three years, and he never tried to influence my judgment - certainly not my medical judgment. Such a thing never happened. I really don't know what the story is with Malka Leifer, but I can say that I think that there's a tendency to focus too much on the man himself and his characteristics, rather than his actions, maybe because he's haredi."
Maybe you are speaking now because it is no secret that you wanted to be health minister, and you picked the right time to be promised the job.
"It's true that I wanted to be health minister, and I still think that I'm right for the job. But I also know that it's a naïve ambition, because today's politics is parties, not professions.
"I'll be glad to be health minister, but not because I'm saying these things today. Incidentally, I'd be happy to be health minister in a government of either Netanyahu or Gantz. There's no question whatsoever of politics here. They should just know that I won't me a ministerial yes man."
Raise the health tax, give more money to outlying areas
Let's talk a little about solutions. What would you do as minister of health?
"I think that government spending on health has to be increased, and I think that if we tell people that the health tax is being raised by X shekels, but that this money will be used exclusively for the health system, they'll accept it."
How much of an increase are you talking about?
"0.5% more, but progressively and income-linked, with less being imposed on the economically disadvantaged."
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on February 11, 2020
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