Doctors, nurses flee ‘sick’ hospital

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Both doctors and nurses are resigning from their jobs at the relatively new Akershus University Hospital northeast of Oslo, just when the hospital desperately needs more staff. The medical professionals, though, are literally sick of the ongoing problems at the hospital.

Akershus University Hospital in Lørenskog has been plagued by ongoing problems that doctors and nurses claim are now acute. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons/Hans-Petter Fjeld

Akershus University Hospital in Lørenskog has been plagued by ongoing problems that doctors and nurses claim are now acute. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons/Hans-Petter Fjeld

The hospital known mostly as “Ahus” has been plagued by short-staffing and “growing pains” since it was massively remodelled and expanded in 2008. The hospital, located in Lørenskog, had long served most residents of Akershus County and last year became responsible for another 160,000 residents of the Alna, Stovner and Grorud districts of Oslo.

That’s when the problems really began, after what state health care officials themselves have since admitted was a lack of planning and preparation for the new influx of potential patients. There’s been a constant string of reports in Norwegian media over the past year about long waiting lists, patients being ignored and resulting cases of malpractice linked to the stress doctors and nurses are under.

The current alarms ringing around the hospital involve a lack of medical staff to care for patients arriving in the emergency room. Many patients have had to wait for hours to see a doctor, while other patients who have been treated must remain in the overcrowded emergency facility because of a shortage of beds in staffed wards elsewhere in the hospital.

Now the doctors are nurses at the hospital are staging a revolt, with many quitting in disgust and others sending protests to administrators and top government officials responsible for health care in Norway. Newspaper VG reported earlier this week that nurses had reported “intolerable” working conditions at Ahus to the top county medical official (fylkeslegen). On Thursday the doctors were following up by sending a letter expressing their concerns directly to Health Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and management at the state agency responsible for the hospital, Helse Sør-Øst.

“There are too few beds and too little capacity and patients are getting poor care,” Dr Heidi Espvik told newspaper Dagsavisen on Thursday. “The situation is terrible.”

She and Dr Aage Huseby, who represents all the doctors at Ahus, said the problems “have been piling up in the emergency room because it’s full in the wards. There’s a complete lack of logistics.”

They’ve been complaining about the staffing situation since the hospital had to take on responsibility for 160,000 new Oslo residents in 2011, and had warned that staffing would be inadequate before that occurred. “This is a modern and fine hospital with all the equipment needed, but we need to optimize operations,” Huseby told Dagsavisen.

The problems at the hospital have prompted many health care professionals, especially nurses, to give up and seek work elsewhere, Huseby said. The hospital is not known as an attractive workplace,  he fears, compounding the current staffing shortage. The doctors expect state officials to react now and take concrete steps to improve capacity, both through expanding facilities and making changes to attract and retain staff.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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