Norway’s left-center government pledged to reduce waiting lists for patients needing treatment, but more people are having to wait for hospital care now than a year ago. “It worries us when delays increase rather than the opposite, as was our aim,”says Labour Party health minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen.
Strøm-Erichsen was set to release the latest in a long series of reports on the state of the Norwegian state health care system on Wednesday. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that it would reveal new statistics showing that Norwegians requiring out-patient services have to wait an average of 50 days for treatments that aren’t psychiatric in nature. That’s one day longer than in 2008. And despite a big boost in resources for psychiatric and drug-addiction care, patients needing those services are waiting longer, too.
In Norway’s largest health region around the Oslo area, Helse Sør-Øst, waiting times grew by up to 10 days for some patient groups. “The most worrisome development is that patients waiting for specialist care are having to wait longer, and that high-priority patients have to wait almost as long as other patients,” health director Bjørn-Inge Larsen told Aftenposten.
Most patients now must wait an average 37 days for a planned operation, two days longer than previously.
Health minister Strøm-Erichsen is also concerned that “guarantee” patients who have a legal right to treatment by a given date, are having to wait just 10 days less than non-priority patients.
“We are treating more patients, but it’s worrisome when the waiting time goes up,” she said, adding that state hospital units around the country will need to start filing monthly reports on their waiting times, to keep up the pressure to reduce them.
The opposition Conservative Party blames the left-center government coalition for the growing queues. “The greatest reason for the increased wait is the government’s ideological dislike of using spare capacity in the private hospital sector,” says Conservative Party spokesman Bent Høie, who also chairs the health and social security committee in the Parliament. He notes that admissions to private hospitals have fallen by 20 per cent form 2008 to 2009.
Høie believes that the regional health organizations are tailoring their guarantee dates to fit the length of their waiting lists. “This is breaking the law,” claims Høie, who urges more use of private hospital capacity to reduce waiting lists.
The new report also shows, however, that hospital expenditure amounting to NOK 100 billion (USD 18 billion) annually is growing only moderately. Costs have grown by around 8 per cent during the last five years (the present government’s period in government), when taking into account rising prices and increasing hospital responsibilities.
“It’s a myth that hospital expenditure is growing at an explosive rate,” says Larsen to Aftenposten.