Parents say children have died because of Hadassah cancer ward crisis

Parents say children have died because of Hadassah cancer ward crisis

Hospital says claims made in letter to State Comptroller calling for official probe into handling of cancer department are ‘exaggerated’

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Parents and young cancer patients from Hadassah Hospital,  Ein Kerem, march in protest against Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and hospital CEO Zeev Rotstein in Jerusalem, June 7, 2017. ( Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Parents and young cancer patients from Hadassah Hospital, Ein Kerem, march in protest against Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and hospital CEO Zeev Rotstein in Jerusalem, June 7, 2017. ( Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Parents of children suffering from cancer who fought and lost a highly publicized battle against Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital, Ein Karem, earlier this year, have claimed in a letter to the State Comptroller that the crisis has already claimed lives.

In a formal letter sent last Wednesday requesting an official inquiry into the crisis, the parents say that cancer has taken the lives of four youngsters, aged four to 17, since March, when six doctors and three interns from the hospital’s pediatric hemato-oncology resigned over a management decision to reorganize that they felt unable to accept on medical and logistical grounds.

“We should stress, with heavy hearts, that this dreadful crisis has already claimed its first victims. Children who were deprived of life, among other things because of the fact that the most basic right, the right to receive medical treatment within a reasonable distance of home was not given to them,” the parents wrote, according to Hadashot news, which obtained a copy of the letter.

In a statement, Hadassah called the parents’ letter to the State Comptroller “exaggerated” and full of lies and said it had one of the best treatment centers in the country, operating normally.

The parent’s letter said that because the families concerned had lost trust in Hadassah and that some 150 children who are sick or under supervision and who were being cared for at Hadassah until the doctors resigned, were now being treated in hospitals near Tel Aviv, such as Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv and the Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petach Tikva.

Parents and supporters of young cancer patients from the hemato-ontology department at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem protest against Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and the hospital’s CEO Zeev Rotstein in Jerusalem on June 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

During the past six months, another 38 Jerusalem-area children had been diagnosed with cancer and they too were looking for treatment in the center of the country, they added.

Blaming “the authorities” for having put irrelevant considerations before the good of the children in deciding to support Hadassah Hospital in the dispute, the letter warned that lives were in danger both from the cancer itself and from the “lack of medical care within a reasonable distance from home.”

The letter said that there was just one conclusion to be drawn — that the present situation, “in which there is no medical solution for sick children in Jerusalem, does not meet the legal norms applicable in Israel and represents a significant blow to the natural right to life and the to the right enshrined in law to receive appropriate medical treatment.”

Prof. Zeev Rotstein, CEO of Hadassah Hospital, speaks during a press conference to introduce the new medical team at the hospital’s hemato-oncology department, June 13, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In October last year, Hadassah Hospital’s director Zeev Rotstein appointed a bone marrow transplant expert from the children’s hemato-oncology unit to head an adult transplant unit, in another building.

Beds in the adult unit were to be used to treat an expanded number of cancer children from overseas — so-called “medical tourists,” who pay large sums for treatment at Hadassah.

The doctors who resigned — all of whom have refused over the years to carry out private medicine — said that the existing team was already far too overstretched, that expecting them to look after tens of additional children would be medically irresponsible, even dangerous, and that the hospital was putting money before care.

Parents of children being treated at Hadassah took their campaign to remain under the treatment of the original medical team to a protest ‘field hospital’ tent in Jerusalem and to a highly publicized and emotional campaign.

Prof. Michael Weintraub, former head of Hadassah Hospital’s pediatric hemato-oncology department, speaks with a young patient at the protest tent in Sacher Park, Jerusalem, June 4, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

They also petitioned the High Court to allow resigning Hadassah staff to transfer as a unit to the city’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, as doctors had attempted to do in the early days of the crisis.

In their response, the hospital said that  immediately after the departure of the nine specialists, it had staffed the hemato-oncological department with “the best doctors in Israel” and was cooperating with centers of excellence overseas such as the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

“The claim that there is no solution for children from Jerusalem is a lie,” the statement said, adding that despite and following the crisis, more than 40 complicated bone marrow transplants had been performed and dozens of children had been treated.

“The decision to move children for treatment to hospitals in the center of the country was taken by the parents of the children [in an atmosphere] of incitement” and “in an attempt to create pressure for the opening of a department at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center, contrary to the decision of the High Court and not because Hadassah was not operating a department.”

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