Around 200 women dressed in their traditional Norwegian bunads were back in battle mode on Tuesday, assembling in front of the Parliament in Oslo to demand a halt to closure and consolidation of maternity wards at small hospitals around the country. They met some resistance, though, from a clinic chief who thinks bigger facilities can provide better service.
The bunad brigade was much smaller than the 1,500 expected to turn out, but they were as determined as when they’ve mounted protests in other Norwegian cities and, not least, during the large May Day parade in Oslo. On Tuesday they proved once again that their bunads have become battle gear, meant to command respect, be a symbol of local power and pride, and show just how serious they are about maintaining maternity and newborn care in smaller towns and cities.
They’re most concerned about the time it can take for a pregnant woman to get to a hospital once labour pains have begun. Far too many babies, they argue, are being born in the family car, taxis or ambulances because of long drives to the nearest maternity ward. The number of maternity wards in Norway has been cut in half during the last 40 years: Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that there were 95 maternity wards in 1979, compared to 45 now.
Women are protesting plans by the government and Health Minister Bent Høie to consolidate more, not least by closing down the ward in Kristiansund and merging it with Molde’s a new, larger hospital to be built closer to Molde. On Tuesday they raised clenched fists once again in their midday demonstration.
Høie has support among parts of the medical community, though. Dr Kjell Åsmund Salvesen, chief of the maternity clinic at St Olavs Hospital in Trondheim, went on national radio Tuesday morning to argue in favour of bigger clinics that can attract more highly qualified personnel.
“The problem with small maternity wards isn’t that they’re small, but they’re difficult to operate,” Salvesen said on NRK’s political debate program Politisk kvarter. “It’s difficult to recruit competent health care personnel, especially doctors, and then it’s difficult to ensure the quality of maternity care.” Salvesen was part of shutting down a small maternity ward at Ørlandet 15 eyars ago, because he believed the medical care on offer wasn’t good enough.
He agrees it’s important that women don’t have to travel too far to give birth, but it’s also important that they get the best care possible. Anja Solvik, leader of the so-called Bunadsgeriljaen (Bunad guerillas), vows nonetheless to continue the fight to preserve clinics that still exist.
“We have tolerated too much for too long,” she exclaimed in her speech on Tuesday. “We have given birth along the sides of roads, at busstops, in the back seat or in the hallway at home, and 367 women didn’t make it to their closest maternity ward last year. We can let the politicians leave this to the health care agencies. This is about life itself.”