Hospital shutdown meets more protests

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A decision by regional health authorities to eventually shut down Norway’s largest hospital, Ullevål in Oslo, and split its functions between two new facilities has angered Ullevål employees and others who’ve opposed the plan for years. As calls went out to fire the director of the Oslo University Hospitals including Ullevål, others believe it is indeed time to build new.

Protests around a pending shutdown of Ullevål University Hospital have swirled for years, like here at the May Day parade this spring. This banner notes how many want to rebuild the old Aker Hospital, but to also let Ullevål remain where it is as Norway’s largest hospital. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The plans call for a new high-rise hospital adjacent to the National Hospital (Rikshospitalet) at Gaustad in Oslo, and to rebuild and reopen an old hospital at Aker, which was controversially shut down several years ago. Oslo patients in its area were supposed to be cared at a then-new hospital at Lørenskog northeast of Oslo, but it has proven to be too small and overburdened.

Hospital administrators and politicians seem to have realized they made a mistake in shutting down Aker. While its refurbishment and reopening is good news for many of the protesters, they also want to keep the historic Ullevål open at its same, central location.

Svein Gjedrem, the former central bank boss who now leads the board of the regional health care agency (Helse Sør-Øst), repeated three main reasons for recommending that the state government finally move forward with the new hospital plans in Oslo:

*** The Norwegian capital needs a new, modern hospital as quickly as possible

*** The costs of yet another study for refurbishing or building a new hospital building at the sprawling Ullevål site will delay the process by three- to four years

*** It’s important to merge regional functions to make hospital operations more efficient.

“Several buildings at Ullevål are so old that they’re rotting away,” Gjedrem told newspaper Aftenposten. “The medical clinic is from when Norway had a Swedish king, and the buildings used for psychiatry are in terrible condition.” Ullevål’s piecemeal development over more than 100 years has also created inefficiencies, and often long transfers in hospital beds among various facilities.

Opponents, including many doctors and nurses at Ullevål, counter that Ullevål’s well-regarded acute care and emergency rooms will be split up. Gjedrem believes the quality of new acute medicine and surgery at the two new hospital will be assured.

“The health minister wants new hospitals and we’ve already spent a lot of time on this process,” Gjedrem said. “It’s time to go further with it.”

Opponents aren’t giving up, with the employees’ representative on the board remaining highly critical. Dr Christian Grimsgaard claims there’s a lack of space for a new hospital on the site at Gaustad and that it’s important for the board to listen to the professional medical staff at Ullevål. Both the Reds and Socialist Left parties (SV) want the head of the Oslo hospitals, Dr Bjørn Erikstein, to be removed from his position, claiming hospital staff have lost confidence in him, and for Health Minister Bent Høie to listen to the medical community.

Others claim the board and state officials mainly want to cash in on Ullevål’s valuable location northwest of the downtown area. Real estate developers have long viewed the site as ripe for housing and commercial projects.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund