The Health Ministry began examining the quality of care for COVID-19 patients in all 30 general hospitals in Israel, in part after repeated exposure in Israel Hayom about serious deficiencies in Wolfson Hospital's COVID-19 ward.
However, Health Ministry Director Prof. Hezi Levy made haste to inform all hospital directors that all findings and conclusions of the investigations, including all materials prepared for the tests, would be kept confidential from the public and not even be given to the 30,000 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in Israel and their families.
According to claims by hospital directors and senior doctors who spoke to Israel Hayom, since the outbreak the Health Ministry has not conducted any examination of the quality of medical care in the COVID-19 wards, and only recently did Prof. Levy inform hospital administrators of the control committee.
Nine members were appointed to the committee, including senior Health Ministry officials, including Prof. Health Ministry Senior Vice President of Quality and Safety Yaron Niv, who was appointed Chairman of the committee, as well as senior directors and physicians from Rambam Hospital in Haifa, Hadassah Ein Kerem in Jerusalem, Beilinson, Shiba, and more.
Levy wrote to the hospital directors on October 14 that the special committee will investigate "the quality of care for coronavirus patients and its outcomes in hospitals in order to map gaps and trends and to bring about a steady increase in the quality of medical services provided to coronavirus patients."
Levy further wrote that the committee will be established as a "control and quality committee" according to provisions of the Patient Rights Law and that "the content of the discussions to be held in the committee, the minutes, any material prepared for hearings, summaries, and conclusions, will be confidential to everyone, including the patient concerned. They will be used as evidence in any legal proceedings."
Following this, a senior Health Ministry official told Israel Hayom yesterday that "there's no doubt that the Health Ministry mustn't make the investigations into the treatment of coronavirus patients confidential, and the Health Ministry has a public duty to act in full transparency with coronavirus, and this is information that must be shared with the public. This is a very unfortunate decision by Ministry Director that will only further increase public suspicion of the health care system and its treatment of the epidemic."
The director of one of the hospitals in the country added that "the decision to keep the investigation confidential is due to fear that the hospitals and doctors' unions won't cooperate with an open examination. I have a very hard time seeing a situation where Health Ministry management can morally and publicly protect the secrecy of the test findings, and it's clear that there will be a huge public struggle to declassify the findings."
Former Health Ministry Comptroller Arieh Paz (who served in his position for about 30 years until 2013) also sharply criticized the veil of secrecy. He said, "Prof. Levy's scandalous decision to conceal the test findings fundamentally contradicts the Health Ministry's duty to give a full and reliable account of such a critical issue to public health."
Paz added that "in all respects, public, moral, governmental, and health, the Health Ministry must not hide from the public the findings of the investigations, even if the ministry thinks, G-d forbid, that it has something to hide about the quality of treatment of coronavirus patients. I call on Health Minister Edelstein and Director Prof. Levy to drastically change the unfortunate decision and determine that there will be complete transparency about the committee's findings, also to strengthen public trust, which is a key tool in the fight against the plague."
Israel Hayom learned that following the announcement by Prof. Levy on October 22, Committee Chairman Prof. Niv wrote to all hospital directors in the country that the purpose of the investigations is to "review the quality of care for coronavirus patients hospitalized since the onset of the epidemic and try to locate difficulties and recommend improvement." Prof. Niv noted that the committee will visit hospitals, receive an overview of the treatment from the hospitals, and collect data from COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the hospitals and analyze the data.
Prof. Niv further announced that the Health Ministry will prepare a questionnaire on the treatment of COVID-19 patients that will be sent to all hospital administrators, care staff, patients, and their families, and that hospitals will be required to present in detail to the committee their experience with COVID-19 patients including the results of medical treatment, and difficulties and barriers that interfered with providing medical care. The hospitals will also be asked to present data on COVID-19 patients as part of a sample that the committee will conduct as part of the investigation.
Prof. Levy's announcement also came against the background of this week's Israel Hayom exposure of nine doctors from the Wolfson Hospital COVID-19 department who complained a week ago to hospital director Dr. Anat Engel that COVID-19 patients in critical condition, some on ventilator, died due to severe omissions and mistakes by medical and nursing staff. According to the investigation, patients suffered severe neglect after crying for hours for help, and no one came to care for them. It also revealed a severe shortage of medical equipment, nurses, and doctors, severely affecting patients in the COVID-19 ward and coronavirus intensive care unit in Wolfson.
These complaints joined complaints about a long list of serious omissions that resulted, according to the complaint, in the deaths of COVID-19 patients, as was raised in early June this year in an internal examination coordinated by Wolfson General Intensive Care Unit in Holon Director Dr. Arie Soroksky.
The serious complaints were forwarded to hospital management and the Health Ministry. This was the first time that doctors' claims had been made that severe and ventilated COVID-19 patients had died not only because of their illness but rather because of severe omissions and mistreatment.
The Health Ministry did not respond at the time of publication.