Major health reform in the works

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Norway’s left-center coalition government is proposing major reforms in the national health service, just before Parliament adjourns for the summer holidays. The opposition is crying foul, saying the proposed reform amounts to little more than political grandstanding in the run-up to the September election.

Health Minister Bjarne Håkon Hanssen of the Labour Party has been examining the Norwegian health care system for more than a year and trying to come up with a new diagnose for long-term treatment. The existing system is fraught with delays and, some claim, inadequate health care unless the patient is in a life-threatening situation.

At present, the state is responsible for Norway’s hospitals, while local government (townships) is responsible for nursing homes and other forms of continuing care for patients with chronic ailments.

Hanssen’s prescription involves turning over many health care delivery systems from state-run hospitals to locally run health centers. He proposes that from 2012, townships should take over a larger portion of health care delivery. The townships will in turn receive larger state budget allocations to build up medical clinics, health care teams and programs aimed at preventative health care.

This will likely involve transferring more health care workers from state-run hospitals to local health centers, while the general practitioners called “fast leger” in Norwegian (state-assigned personal doctors) may be reassigned to more hospital or clinic work. In all, an estimated 200,000 health care workers in Norway would be affected by the reorganization.

Doctors already are opposing such reform, saying it means they’ll have less time for the patients already assigned to them. Health care will suffer as a result, they say.

Opposition politicians are also criticizing Hanssen’s proposed reforms, not least because the proposal is coming on the last day of the current parliamentary session. They claim the long-awaited government reform proposal — aimed at improving health care and reducing today’s long waiting lists for treatment while lowering costs — is coming much too late.

Harald Nesvik of the Progress Party dismisses the reform proposal as little more than a Labour re-election ploy paid for by the taxpayers. Health care spokespersons for both the Conservatives and the Christian Democrats agree, saying Hanssen’s proposal is terribly delayed and that the government parties haven’t shared the proposals with the opposition at all, making it even more difficult to hope for consensus on such a major reform.

Hanssen himself was tight-lipped about his proposed reform package this week. It was due to be unveiled on Friday.