On 26 March 2019, the Palestinian Minister of Health communicated a decision to the Treatment Abroad Directorate at the Ministry of Health (MOH) dictating that patients would no longer be referred to Israeli hospitals. The decision followed Israel’s withholding of $138m in tax revenue owed to the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Osama Al-Najar, spokesperson of the MOH in Ramallah, told Al Mezan Center for Human Rights that the decision would have immediate effect, but would not impact patients who had been referred before the date of the decision.
Mr. Al-Najar said the decision was political and was made in the context of Israel withholding the tax revenues. He added that it was in response to the manipulation of patient treatment costs—valued at $100m annually. “The Ministry’s alternative plan is to refer patients to hospitals in the West Bank, including national hospitals in East Jerusalem and to hospitals in neighboring Arab countries.”
While Al Mezan welcomes attempts to further nationalize healthcare—and provide a range of quality services—it expresses concern at the impact the decision has had on patients with ongoing treatment at Israeli hospitals. According to the criteria, these patients should be excluded as they are not new referrals. However, in practice, the decision still seems to apply to them, which negates the stated criteria by Mr. Al-Najar.
Al Mezan warns against the potential repercussions of the MOH decision on patients’ health, especially patients in need of life-saving treatment. This concern is underscored by the state of Gaza’s impoverished health sector, which is characterized by a lack of medical equipment, medicines and medical supplies, and lack of adequately-trained personnel, which results in long waitlists and inability to provide care.
Al Mezan calls on the MOH to honor the criteria laid out in the decision and exclude all current patients from its effects, including those who were denied admission into Israeli hospitals on Wednesday, 27 March 2019, as a result of the decision. These patients should be afforded easy and timely access to treatment as scheduled, especially patients from Gaza who encounter ample difficulty receiving exit permits, covering treatment costs, and commuting to hospitals. Patients’ rights to healthcare, physical integrity, and life are paramount and must be kept out of any political dispute. These rights should be a priority on the national agenda.