Skip to main content

East Jerusalem: Access to Emergency Care

Volume 782: debated on Tuesday 28 March 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of back to back transfers between ambulances at checkpoints on the health of Palestinians seeking to access emergency care in East Jerusalem hospitals.

My Lords, the Palestine Red Crescent Society reported in 2015 that 84% of transfers from West Bank to East Jerusalem hospitals underwent back-to-back transfers. The UK has consistently called on the Israeli Government to ease restrictions that reduce access to medical care for Palestinians.

I thank the Minister for his reply. A number of noble Lords have asked me about back-to-back ambulance transfers. Basically, when somebody in the West Bank is critically ill—it is an emergency case—there are no tertiary hospitals in the West Bank and the referral is made to one in East Jerusalem, which is on the other side of the barrier. So the person will get into an ambulance in the West Bank but then be made to get out at the checkpoint and either be wheeled or have to walk through, regardless of whether he is having a heart attack or she is in a difficult labour. They will then have, on average, a 27-minute wait at the checkpoint, before transferring to an ambulance on the Israeli side to be taken, finally, to the hospital. This is an enormous barrier to the coexistence funding programme that DfID has announced to ensure better outcomes for Palestinians needing emergency care. Will the Minister confirm that he will make the strongest possible representations to his counterparts?

We will certainly continue to make our representations. More importantly, we fund the UN Access Coordination Unit, which helps in this area. We agree that the waiting times are unacceptable. Of course, the long-term solution lies in the resumption of peace talks.

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that the first responsibility of a Government is to protect their citizens? Sadly, ambulances have been used by terrorists a number of times in the region. As we understand only too well, difficult decisions have to be made. Is my noble friend also aware that in 2015 more than 190,000 Palestinians entered Israel from the West Bank to receive medical treatment in Israeli hospitals?

That latter point is well worth underscoring, but it does not take away from the distress that is caused to people who have to transfer from ambulance to ambulance at the border, with these three distinct medical areas: the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. We think there is a way forward. If the same spirit that has been shown in the offer of medical services by the State of Israel could be addressed to this issue, I am sure that a way could be found.

Does the Minister agree with me that Israel deserves praise for organising a system of volunteers who help the injured people in the ambulances get to Israeli hospitals? Moreover, those hospitals are treating thousands of injured Syrians. They deserve praise for ensuring that there is a safe haven at least somewhere in the Middle East for wounded Syrians.

A tremendous amount of work is going on with Syrians, not least that which DfID is supporting through its work with the UNRWA. We support 22 clinics which are providing essential medical treatment. This situation, in any circumstance, cannot be justified, but it needs to be resolved in a peaceful, constructive way which recognises the legitimate security concerns of the State of Israel.

Of course it is distressing and the people of the West Bank and Gaza deserve the very best medical treatment, but will the Minister confirm the point that has already been made—that on many occasions in the recent past, ambulances have been used to convey terrorists and explosives for use in Israel?

We recognise that and of course we acknowledge the absolute right of the State of Israel to defend itself against terrorist attacks. We believe that with good will on both sides, it will be possible to come to a situation where innocent patients are not ending up as the victims of terrorist activities being perpetrated in Gaza or elsewhere.

My Lords, we have heard how the people of the Occupied Territories continue to face challenges accessing emergency care. The diocese of Jerusalem provides hospitals and health centres across this area, but many of the vital facilities and services are not fully operational because the equipment cannot be calibrated and staff lack accreditation. What conversations have Her Majesty’s Government had with the Israeli Government to facilitate the necessary inspections to ensure that these and similar facilities become operational and therefore reduce the reliance of Palestinian people on reaching hospitals in East Jerusalem?

We tend to raise these issues whenever we meet officials. My colleague Rory Stewart was in the Occupied Territories last weekend. It is a constant issue that we raise with them. We think there are legitimate concerns about the use of some materials, but we believe that there is a way forward on this to make sure that innocent people do not suffer.

My Lords, DfID provides substantial budget support to the Palestinian Authority. Picking up the point made by the right reverend Prelate, when giving that budget support, how much pressure does DfID put on the Palestinian Authority to ensure that money is spent properly on medical care and hospitals?

The noble Lord makes a valid point. The Secretary of State has taken a leading role in this by changing the way in which we do that. The £25 million that we provide to the Palestinian Authority now needs to go to vetted individuals for specific programmes that have been announced. We work with our EU partners through the PEGASE arrangement to ensure that it ends up in the right hands, but more could be done, and I am happy to undertake to make those representations to ensure that it happens.

In situations like this Palestinian, Israeli and international non-governmental organisations play a very important role. Is DfID satisfied that the Israeli Government make life sufficiently easy for non-governmental organisations to play a role in assisting Palestinian healthcare and other areas like that?

We would like to see more. We do not think that the NGO Bill which is currently before the Knesset goes down that route. We think we need to do more.