Health Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen was met with anger and suspicion when she visited Romsdal in western Norway this week. Putting off construction of a long-planned new hospital near Molde brought more than a thousand local residents out to demonstrate against her, the latest dramatic response to the government’s troublesome hospital politics.
The county called Møre og Romsdal has three major hospitals, each serving its own part of the region. Geography, history and differing dialects strengthen separate local identities, making the location of a new hospital in the area a strongly divisive issue. Residents of Sunnmøre, south of the area known as Romsdalen, and Nordmøre, to the north, fear that their local hospitals will become mere satellites, dominated by the new centrally located institution and stripped of key health care functions.
Union representatives from Molde hospital in Romsdalen were convinced Strøm-Erichsen of the Labour Party wanted to drop the new project after they met with her, wrote website Aftenposten.no.
She denies she’s made up her mind to close Molde hospital in order to build a new hospital further north in Nordmøre. However, she told Aftenposten.no that a new facility shared between Nordmøre and Romsdalen might be a good alternative.
“There will be a new hospital. However since this is some years away, we have to look at what the best solution would be,” says Strøm-Erichsen.
The union representative for the hospital doctors in Molde, Bernd Müller, now wants to put his faith in Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.
“We will win this battle, but not with the present minister in charge. She should go back to Jens Stoltenberg and ask what was promised in 2008. Jens Stoltenberg knows this, and he has to set things straight,” says Müller to Aftenposten.no.
Local Labour supporters have threatened mass resignations from the party. Molde’s Labour Party claims in a letter to Jens Stoltenberg that his minister’s handling of the issue has “created an explosive climate in local politics as a result of the local population’s great disappointment and their feeling of having been made a fool of. This has focused attention and anger against the health minister and the Labour Party,” reports local newspaper Romsdals Budstikke.
Stoltenberg’s government, faced with other protests over possible or planned hospital closures around the country, reportedly sat in what newspaper Aftenposten called a “crisis meeting” until midnight on Wednesday. The government also faces internal dissension on a variety of other issues and one of its partners, Center Party, is under investigation for alleged misappropriation of funds.