Crisis meeting called over hospitals

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Health Minister Anne-Grethe Strøm-Erichsen called in those responsible for the administration of Oslo’s largest hospitals early Friday morning, after another week of conflict pegged to their massive reorganization. Serious concerns continue to be raised about the consequences of the reorganization on patient care.

The “extraordinary” meeting was called after representatives of all the professional organizations representing doctors, nurses and other health care workers complained bitterly again earlier this week, and said they’d lost faith in Bente Mikkelsen, who heads the state agency in charge of hospitals in southeastern Norway, Helse Sør-Øst.

There’s also been a string of reports about a lack of beds at the new Akershus University Hospital, to which thousands of patients in Oslo were transferred after the controversial closure of the Aker hospital at Sinsen in Oslo. The mergers of various operations of the biggest hospitals — Radium Hospitalet, Rikshospitalet and Ullevål Sykehus — have also spurred numerous problems and complaints.

‘Patient care must not suffer’
Strøm-Erichsen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) after the early-morning crisis meeting that “patient care must not suffer” as a result of the reorganization that her own ministry has supported, even demanded, as part of the government’s political strategy for health care delivery in Norway.

The reorganization, meant to provide more efficient delivery over the long term, is proving highly difficult to carry out in the short term. It has, for example, involved huge budget cuts as hospitals transfer functions but remain responsible for patients during the transition period.

Doctors and nurses claim their voices haven’t been heard, and one participant at Friday’s meeting from Helse Sør-Øst told NRK that there was “much to gain” from better communication. He called it a “very good meeting,” although it was difficult to ascertain any concrete solutions or details of what can be done differently to make the reorganization less painful.

Strøm-Erichsen did offer what she called “new, fresh money” to help fund the reorganization. She said NOK 300 million will be added to the state budget for Oslo’s hospitals, to help them fund, among other things, rehabilitation of hospital buildings and a new emergency room at Ullevål.

She said she still had confidence in the leadership at Helse Sør-Øst despite worries about budget overruns and doctors’ complaints. With Oslo’s largest hospitals now all part of one huge entity called Oslo University Hospital, they’ve been told to cut hundreds of positions and stop spending as much as NOK 50 million more per month than budgeted.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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