Hospital conflict becomes acute

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Heated conflicts over proposed closures of hospitals or hospital services around Norway are reaching fever-pitch within the government itself. The three parties making up the country’s coalition government don’t agree on how their own campaign promises should be interpreted regarding health care reform.

Health Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen faces protests from within her own government, over her response to hospital reform. PHOTO: Helsedepartementet

The Labour Party holds the health minister’s post, and it seems to be going along with hospital management proposals to close various local hospitals entirely or terminate some of their services such as maternity care. 

The Center Party, Labour’s much smaller government partner, doesn’t want to see any local hospitals shut down and wants to maintain their current health care services. It thought that was a clear coalition promise during last year’s election campaign, and is now openly criticizing its Labour colleagues for thinking otherwise.

The Socialist Left Party (SV) worries that the politicians are in danger of losing control over hospital structure to the bureaucrats, and SV politicians are also criticizing their own government. Any decision to turn a local hospital into a so-called “district medical center” must be made by politicians, not the bureaucrats, claims SV’s Geir-Ketil Hansen, a member of the Parliament’s committee on health care. And, he told newspaper Aftenposten, “we don’t see a need” to do that to a single hospital.

This pits SV and the Center Party against Labour, and the conflict heated up Thursday morning when Center Party leader Liv Signe Navarsete went on national radio with a plea to keep all local hospitals open and fully functional.

The government’s platform seemed clear and in line with its campaign promises. Roughly translated, it states that “today’s decentralized hospital offering shall be maintained. This will, among other things, secure that acute services and maternity care will be nearby, even though such services aren’t offered at all hospital. No local hospital will be shut down.”

In Oslo, however, debate has raged for months over the imminent shutdown of the Aker University Hospital, which traditionally has served the city’s district of Groruddalen. Proposals to suspend maternity and acute care at the hospital in Kristiansund on Norway’s west coast, meanwhile, sent more than 5,000 protesters into the streets on Wednesday, to express their displeasure when Labour’s Health Minister Anne-Grete Strøm Erichsen arrived for a visit.

Both she and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg deny they’re breaking campaign or platform promises, and claim they’re merely “open” for changes in how health care services are delivered in Norway.

Strøm-Erichsen faced the protesters in Kristiansund and said she’d never been met by such a crowd before. She also met with the mayors of Kristiansund and Molde, who each want to preserve their hospitals and are arguing over proposed restructuring, but made no promises. She did warn, though, that if the neighboring cities each retain a hospital, they likely will need to share or swap services.

Entirely new cures may be proposed if the conflict ultimately leads to irreconcilable differences within the government, or even brings it down.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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