One scanner for 500,000 people: “They tell you – either you pay to go private, or you die”

It’s a nerve-wracking experience that every Israeli knows all too well: they, or someone in their family, needs a complicated medical test – and that’s when the battle to get a timely appointment begins. It can take weeks or even months. The cancerous growth, meanwhile, doesn’t wait, and anyone who can fork up thousands of shekels turns to fixers and acquaintances in high places. Why is this the case? What prevents hospitals from acquiring more machines? And why is the ratio of machines to patients even worse in the peripheries? In Haifa, until this year, just one machine served half a million residents. In this Shomrim investigation, we took a standard PET-CT scan as a test case. Here are the findings.

It’s a nerve-wracking experience that every Israeli knows all too well: they, or someone in their family, needs a complicated medical test – and that’s when the battle to get a timely appointment begins. It can take weeks or even months. The cancerous growth, meanwhile, doesn’t wait, and anyone who can fork up thousands of shekels turns to fixers and acquaintances in high places. Why is this the case? What prevents hospitals from acquiring more machines? And why is the ratio of machines to patients even worse in the peripheries? In Haifa, until this year, just one machine served half a million residents. In this Shomrim investigation, we took a standard PET-CT scan as a test case. Here are the findings.

It’s a nerve-wracking experience that every Israeli knows all too well: they, or someone in their family, needs a complicated medical test – and that’s when the battle to get a timely appointment begins. It can take weeks or even months. The cancerous growth, meanwhile, doesn’t wait, and anyone who can fork up thousands of shekels turns to fixers and acquaintances in high places. Why is this the case? What prevents hospitals from acquiring more machines? And why is the ratio of machines to patients even worse in the peripheries? In Haifa, until this year, just one machine served half a million residents. In this Shomrim investigation, we took a standard PET-CT scan as a test case. Here are the findings.

Renen Netzer

Photo: Shutterstock

November 24, 2021

Summary

In this article, we chose to focus on one of the most infuriating examples: PET-CT, a hugely important test in oncology departments, which is a vital part of the diagnosis process of cancerous growths and determining how far the disease has spread – even at the earliest stages.

Despite the importance of the test, the number of PET-CT machines serving more than 9.2 million Israelis is currently just 16. Three additional machines are due to be introduced, raising the number to 19, but even after this happens, the ratio will still be one machine to 481,000 people. In the peripheries, the ratio continues to be nothing less than scandalous. In the Southern District, there are just two machines, and the ratio is 1:665,000. In the north, the ratio until this year was almost 1:1,000,000; the introduction of one additional machine has brought that down to 1:660,000.

The outcome is that patients are forced to wait nervously for weeks or months until they get a scan; in many cases, this prevents them from getting the optimal treatment. One additional side effect is the proliferation of companies specializing in helping people get appointments – a troubling trend and something that the state comptroller warned about several years ago. Nonetheless, this damaging industry continues to thrive.

This is a summary of shomrim's story published in Hebrew.
To read the full story click here.