Long-simmering conflicts between doctors and hospital management in Norway erupted in the first strike in many years on Wednesday. Some non-acute operations were already being postponed as more than 100 doctors were called off the job at various state-run hospitals around the country.
Talks broke down last spring between Norway’s professional labour organization representing doctors (Legeforeningen) and Spekter, the employers’ organization representing Norway’s regionally organized health care management.
Mediation broke down
The two sides went into mediation but there was a new breakdown in negotiations with the national mediator (Riksmegleren) just after midnight. That means a total of 194 members of Legeforeningen, including some medical engineers, were pulled off the job at targeted hospitals and clinics in the initial stage of the strike.
More may be called out on strike later if negotiations don’t resume. Hospitals affected from Wednesday include Oslo University Hospital, Sykehuset Østfold, hospitals in Bergen and Stavanger, and Finnmarkssykehuset. The Kysthospitalet at Hagavik in Os in Bergen was hit hard as a result of strike action against the regional organization Helse Bergen.
Patients scheduled for various operations that now must be postponed were being contacted. Administrators claimed the strike otherwise won’t have any large immediate consequences for the public. Life and safety will not be put at risk.
Strike may spread Friday
“There’s a limited number of doctors on duty called out, many are more active in academia, and we will do all we can so that patients won’t be affected,” Eivind Hansen, managing director of Helse Bergen, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Wednesday.
The strike may spread on Friday. The doctors have been complaining about lengthy and unpredictable duty shifts for years and are now demanding an end to work days as long as 19 hours and 60-hour work weeks. Doctors are not subject to Norway’s labour laws preventing such excessive work.
They are paid well for so-called lucrative “NOK 20,000 shifts,” but want to maintain collective systems that involved all doctors on staff, instead of more individually oriented shifts that would give the employers more flexibility in offsetting staff shortages during holiday periods. The complicated shift system has long been a bone of contention and also set off a wave of sharp criticism posted by doctors on social media and directed at Spekter’s leadership.