United opposition demands hospital merger ‘time-out’

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The leaders of the four main opposition parties in parliament have called for a “time-out” in the highly painful process of merging Oslo’s biggest hospitals into the single giant Oslo Universitetssykehus (OUS). They claimed at joint press conference Monday that the controversial merger is spinning health care in the capital “out of control.”

Siv Jensen of the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp), Trine Skei Grande of the Liberal Party (Venstre), Erna Solberg of the Conservatives (Høyre) and Knut Arild Hareide of the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti, KrF) met in an unusual show of unity to blast the left-center coalition government’s ongoing support for a merger that’s caused huge debate for months and, some say, threatens patient care.

“We’re asking for a ‘time-out,'” Jensen said on behalf of the other party leaders. Their concern was welcomed by the doctors and nurses who have been sounding alarms for the past year and now by a professor of social medicine at the University of Oslo, Per Fugelli, who thinks Health Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen and top health care administrator Bente Mikkelsen must acknowledge that the merger is too big and is being pushed through too quickly.

“This confidence crisis just gets stronger and stronger,” Fugelli told newspaper Dagsavisen. “Something has to happen.”

Solberg of Høyre agreed. “Completely painless can it never be, given such a huge restructuring,” Solberg said. “But what’s lacking here is a foundation for confidence.”

Strøm-Erichsen has continued to defend the merger and those administering it. “Neither the administration nor management at the hospital think the reorganization is out of control,” she told reporters. Her only concession:  “With such a major process, one must always be evaluating what’s being done. This is a leadership responsibility, and the ministry is following up.”

She also said she was glad none of the four party leaders called for actually reversing the merger process, even though they think it’s going too fast.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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