Norwegian doctors taking part in the state’s fastlege (primary care physician) program report that they work on average more than 55 hours a week. They also claim that their total time on the job has increased by seven hours a week just in the past four years.
All residents of Norway are entitled to select a fastlege as the doctor they call first when they need medical help. Their primary care physicians can also refer them to specialists and order up tests if the doctor’s own office and lab can’t provide what’s needed.
The program is heavily subsidized by Norway’s national health service and patients pay only a portion of the fee, and nothing at all for the rest of the year after they’ve paid more than NOK 2,000 (USD 250) in fees. Hospitalization in Norway, meanwhile, is fully covered by the national health service and carries no fees at all.
The fastlege system, launched in 2001, has been a popular program that provides patients with their own health care anchor of sorts, but doctors taking part have been complaining recently about rising work loads. A survey was thus ordered by the state health ministry, and carried out by the state health directorate, to determine the cause of the complaints and address them.
More than 80 percent of doctors responding report that they’re working well in excess of the state labour department’s maximum of 40 hours in the course of seven days. “This shows what the doctors have been telling us, that they’re experiencing longer work days and an increase in assignments,” said Health Minister Bent Høie after receiving the report.
He noted that various municipalities around Norway have struggled to hire enough doctors to serve their local populations. “We must ensure that pasients have a primary care physician to go to, and that the physician has working conditions that are acceptable,” Høie stated, adding that efforts would be made to “renew and improve the fastlege program.”