Hundreds of activists from all over Norway gathered in front of the parliament building (Stortinget) on Monday, to protest looming closures of local hospitals. They made it clear they want the hospitals to remain open and in full service.
The demonstrators all but drowned out Health Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen when she tried to address the crowd. They are furious over signals she’s sent over the past several months that more hospitals in outlying areas will be closed or lose key functions such as maternity wards.
An estimated 1,000 demonstrators had gathered in front of the parliament by late afternoon. Many had traveled by bus to Oslo, with 200 coming from Sogn og Fjordane alone. Others came from places like Odda, Kongsberg, Rjukan in Telemark and Stord.
Still others flew to Oslo from Harstad, Narvik and Mosjøen in northern Norway. Other demonstrators followed the action in Oslo from their hometowns, where they also gathered with flaming torches and angry speeches.
Among them were residents of Vågsøy in Nordfjord, who are losing their maternity services at the local hospital in Eid. Around 2,000 persons turned up in the local town square to protest the health care cuts.
“This just shows the broad commitment for health care, that it’s perhaps the most important for many in the whole country,” local doctor Trond Inselseth of Vågsøy told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), which led its nightly national newscast with the demonstrations.
The health minister, Strøm-Erichsen, was booed and heckled as she tried to explain that health care remains a priority of the left-center government. She made no promises, though, that hospitals would remain open.
Jarle Vindedal, who represents Strøm-Erichsen’s own Labour Party in local government in Lærdal, was disappointed. “I thought she would come to better thoughts, but that hasn’t happened,” he told NRK.