‘Sad day’ as maternity wards close

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The Norwegian government has finally decided to push forward with plans to downgrade local maternity ward services in Odda, Lærdal and Lofoten, and close down such services in Nordfjordeid – moves that have created local opposition.

Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen, who has been under-fire for her handling of the issue, believes the changes will improve services, despite local opposition. PHOTO: Ministry of Health

The reduction of services in Odda and Lærdal, both in west Norway, and Lofoten in the north will involve replacing gynecological positions with midwifes, something which is thought to threaten Lærdal in particular if the hospital cannot find enough local midwifes. Services at Nordfjordeid (also in the west) will be merged with the maternity ward at Volda after a new tunnel is built nearby to ensure shorter distances between the two areas.

‘Creates a robust specialist environment’
Health minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen of the Labour Party told Norwegian Broadcoasting (NRK) that the changes “built on professional recommendations,” and that the new situation in Nordfjordeid in particular would “create a robust specialist environment” at the bigger joint operation. She told newspaper Aftenposten that one of the problems in Nordfjordeid was creating a good environment for specialists, given that the hospital only performs “one Caesarian section every other week.” The new department at Volda would be added to, said the minister, in order to maintain “a good, forward-looking provision for women and children in the region.” She also assured locals that the region’s health apparatus as a whole would still be able to deal with emergency Caesarian sections if needed through its “good ambulances, air ambulances and planes.”

Although both the Norwegian Gynecological Association and the Association of Midwives themselves agreed with the plans to centralize services, locals opposed the idea. A representative of workers at the Nordfjordeid hospital, Sissel Ommedal, told newspaper VG that the announcement came as a “shock,” and amounts to a “catastrophe for the local population.” Ommedal added that many employees “had already begun to talk about finding another job,” and said that locals were concerned that the “many young people” that had moved to the area because of the “security of the emergency preparedness” of the hospital would now leave.

Center Party leader Liv Signe Navarsete will now fear losing support after promising never to accept the local closures. PHOTO: Senterpartiet

‘Sad day’ for Center Party
Negotiations within government over the changes have been raging since the new year, with Sp in particular opposing aspects of the plans. Part of the new deal for Nordfjordeid will involve more resources for elderly care, psychiatry and emergency services, all of which are felt to be a condition of Sp’s support. NOK 25 million (USD 4.5 million) will also be funnelled to the hospital over the next three years as part of a local project. Meanwhile, Lærdal will have its emergency services strengthened with 24-hour readiness for laboratory and x-ray services, as well as an improved orthopedics department.

Nonetheless, many Sp supporters and politicians will be disappointed with the result. Party leader Liv Signe Navarsete stated to NRK that the news was “very tough.” Kjersti Toppe, an Sp member of parliament who sits on the health and care committee, described today as a “sad political day” for her party, given that the issue of local provision “touches us deep in our soul.” She put the result of the government negotiations down to “the different approach to this policy area” that the Labour Party has to Sp. She now fears that the new arrangements “will mean that more women in the districts will have longer journeys to maternity services, when we have promised the opposite.”

Sp had earlier signalled that they would not accept any such local closures. NRK described this issue of Nordfjordeid hospital in particular as “Sp’s Lofoten”, a reference to the battle the other small governing party, the Socialist Left Party (SV), had fought within government over the issue of drilling for oil in Lofoten. SV won on that issue – at least in the short term – after suggesting that it was make or break for them.

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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