Probe demanded into hospital crisis

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All the opposition parties in the Norwegian Parliament are demanding a full, independent investigation into the merger of Oslo-area hospitals that’s blamed for short-staffing, enormous frustration among doctors and nurses and even the deaths of some patients. The calls come after the state Auditor General himself declared that the merger seriously affected patient care.

Jørgen Kosmo, who as Norway’s riksrevisor is responsible for auditing state ministries and agencies, unleashed scathing criticism on Tuesday of both the Labour Party-led health ministry and its regional agency in charge of administering health care in southeastern Norway, Helse Sør-Øst. By Monday morning, opposition politicians hoping to assume government power after next year’s national elections were calling for the investigation.

Auditor’s probe already made
Kosmo, who hails from the Labour Party himself, and his teams of auditors have already done their own probe and were far from satisfied with how the hospital merger was carried out. Kosmo cited a lack of proper planning, a failure to listen to the concerns of health care professionals and, what’s worse, a failure to understand the risks to patient care that the merger would entail.

The merger and its massive reorganization of hospitals in the Oslo area has involved the so-called “university hospitals” including Ullevål, Rikshospital and Radium Hospitalet, along with Aker and, not least, the new Akershus Universitets Sykehus (Ahus) in Lørenskog. It was meant to make health care delivery better and more efficient but instead it left Ahus, for example, extremely short-staffed after it had to assume responsibility for around 160,000 residents in northeast Oslo that previously had been cared for by Aker. There’s been a long stream of alarming reports about patients being all but ignored because there simply weren’t enough doctors, nurses or even rooms to accommodate them.

The state Auditor General has now placed the blame firmly on the health ministry and the management in Helse Sør-Øst. “The most serious thing is that it went out over patients,” Kosmo said. He thinks the merger itself was a “good project,” but it was poorly administered and led to those in charge of the reorganization taking risks that were far too high. Neither ministry officials nor top officials at Helse Sør-Øst took steps necessary to correct their mistakes soon enough, Kosmo said.

New bosses, but new problems arise
Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has already transferred his former health minister, Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen over to the defense ministry, and installed the most respected member of his government, former Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, in her place. Støre, whose popularity has since plummeted, also oversaw the resignation of Helse Sør-Øst’s top boss Bente Mikkelsen last month and he’s trying to restore public faith in both the hospitals and the health ministry.

Opposition politicians nonetheless were quick to follow up on the Auditor General’s harsh criticism, not least since reports continue to emerge of long waiting lists for care at other hospitals and reorganizations that threaten the survival of several hospitals in outlying areas.

Kosmo said the health care administrators have had “unrealistic expectations” for their reorganizations and must pay more attention to the challenges posed by differences in such aspects as physical plant, staffing specialities, communications systems and economic framework.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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