In a rare collaboration between the coalition and the opposition, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation in the Knesset passed a precedent-setting proposed bill on Sunday that will unite all the country’s dispatch centers and emergency hotlines in one number. Passage by the committee virtually guarantees passage by the Knesset plenum.
From the effective date of the new law, all the rescue organizations will receive all the calls, enabling all the response teams in the area of the emergency to arrive on the scene and save lives.
The United Hatzalah emergency medical response service said it welcomed the new measure, which was submitted by MKs Idit Silman (Yamina) and Eitan Ginzburg (Blue & White) from the coalition, and Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) and Yinon Azoulay (Shas) from the opposition.
“I wish to thank MK Idit Silman for her efforts on behalf of the citizens of Israel and her efforts to improve the emergency medical response system of the country,” United Hatzalah President and Founder Eli Beer said.
“I call on the Minister of Health, Nitzan Horowitz, who works night and day for the improvement of public health, to continue the revolution he is making in the Ministry of Health in emergency medicine and to finish the legislative process that has already begun. This will result in many lives being saved in Israel.”
The new law was met with some resistance from Magen David Adom (MDA), the country’s main medical rescue operation, which argued that the current hotline number, 101, already sends out alerts to all the medical rescue organizations and that the only reason for confusion has to do with the fact that the country’s other large medical rescue group, United Hatzalah, in 2010 acquired its own hotline number, 1221, the use of which has since been discouraged by the Health Ministry.
United Hatzalah, for its part, has argued that MDA controls the flow of all medical information from its emergency medical number 101 and relays to Hatzalah and other local groups only part of the information, often just the street name without a number.
MK Silman, who chairs the Knesset Health Committee, argued that she and her committee members:
“heard from witnesses, representatives from numerous organizations, and experts in the field. We … visited the various emergency dispatching centers. We watched as medical emergency phone calls were handled in real-time.
At the end of this, we concluded unequivocally that we need a unified emergency phone number and one dispatching center. Why is this so? Because dozens of tragic and truly heart-breaking incidents have occurred in which people waited for an MDA ambulance for 15 and 20 minutes, while a paramedic from another rescue organization was two minutes away from the incident, but did not receive the information or the alert.”
MDA also argued that its status as a member of the International Red Cross depends on its remaining an independent organization that’s not controlled by the government.
MDA cited a letter sent to the Israeli government by the international federation of the Red Cross in 2012 reiterating the need for MDA’s complete independence for its qualification as a member. A law governing and regulating how MDA should run its operations would violate this independence.
MK Silman responded that the only significant change her bill introduces is the addition of Health Ministry officials to oversee the transfer of information from the hotlines to the various local rescue groups in every emergency. “MDA’s power and independence will not be harmed,” Silman promised.
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