Another fire in a long tunnel through the mountains of western Norway last Monday has renewed the debate over local hospital closures being pushed by the state government. The state wants to merge hospitals to consolidate health care and cut costs, while local communities are fighting for their survival.
Activists in favour of keeping small local hospitals open mounted a spontaneous demonstration in front of the Parliament shortly after the fire in the Gudvanga Tunnel in Sogn og Fjordane. They called it a “powerful reminder” of how critical it can be to have hospitals nearby that are equipped to perform emergency surgery and care for accident victims.
Now they’re reviving the debate in the campaign for the upcoming municipal elections in September. “The tunnel fire show how important it is to have emergency preparedness,” said Bente Øien Hauge, coordinator for the network Folkebevegelsen for lokalsykehusene (People’s movement for local hospitals).
Health Minister Bent Høie thanked the emergency crews who responded to Monday’s tunnel fire, while the demonstrators noted that he has favoured shutting down some small- and medium-sized hospitals, arguing that residents will be better served by consolidating health care services and expertise in bigger regional hospitals.