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Saturday, May 21, 2022

State orders Ullevål shutdown

Norway’s Labour Party-led state government is breaking campaign promises and overriding its own Labour-led city government in Oslo. After years of controversy, Labour’s health minister announced plans to build two new but unwanted hospitals in the capital, and shut down Oslo’s old but popular Ullevål Hospital in the process.

It’s caused another major dispute within the Labour Party itself, and is also embarrassing for Labour’s state government partner, the Center Party. It’s known for criticizing how state officials in Oslo have too much power over local officials, and Center leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum even campaigned to save Ullevål Hospital from the wreckers’ booms. Now he’s breaking yet another campaign promise, while city government officials in Oslo accuse the entire state government of failing to respect local democracy.

Demonstrators led by the Mayor of Oslo and even top Labour Party politicians marched through the streets of Oslo in early February to save Ullevål Hospital, only to see Labour’s Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol and Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre opt to tear it down anyway. PHOTO: NewsInEnglish.no/Morten Møst

Support for maintaining Ullevål was strong within Oslo and outside the capital, too. Ullevål is known for its award-winning emergency room that takes in patients from all over the country. Ullevål also has highly specialized teams of medical professionals who now may be split up between the two new hospitals, while its large and sprawling site won praise during the Corona crisis: It made it much easier and safer to isolate both Corona patients and their doctors and nurses, instead of having them all located within a single high-rise building.

Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol of the Labour Party, however, is siding with health care administrators in charge of running hospitals in southeast Norway. They’ve been agitating to build new high-rise hospitals at Aker and Gausdal in Oslo, shut down Ullevål and sell off its prime property in the heart of the capital. The adminstrators have long been at odds with the doctors and other health care professionals at Ullevål who’ve wanted to maintain the existing hospital and improve it.

Kjerkol chose a Friday afternoon to announce her decision that it was “critical” for Oslo University Hospital and its administration “to be assured realization of the plans” for the new hospitals at Gausdal (adjacent to the National Hospital known as Rikshospitalet) and Aker. She claimed that Oslo’s University Hospital has the “worst buildings” in the country and that a new a modern hospital is urgently needed to serve Oslo’s growing population.

Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol of the Labour Party was not a popular figure in Oslo Friday afternoon. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

She’s opting for little-used and highly criticized state rezoning power called statlig regulering, which will allow the state government to override Oslo’s city government planners and rezoning officials. The rezoning is needed to allow construction of buildings that otherwise wouldn’t be allowed at the new sites.

Kjerkol’s boss, Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, had also ominously indicated in late February that he didn’t plan to save Ullevål Hospital.

Top Labour Party politicians in Oslo were predictably furious, claiming they “strongly disagreed” with Kjerkol’s use of the state regulatory powers. Both the leader of Labour’s Oslo chapter who’s also a Member of Parliament, Frode Jacobsen, and the leader of Oslo’s city government, Raymond Johansen, object strongly to how their powers have been marginalized. Oslo Mayor Marianne Borgen of the Socialist Left Party (SV) was also upset, claiming it was “a sad day for Oslo.”

Oslo Mayor Marianne Borgen led the latest large protest demonstration against abolishing Ullevål Hospital. At right, former Labour Party Minister Åse Kleveland. PHOTO: NewsInEnglish.no/Morten Møst

“The (state) government has shown a lack of respect for local democracy and for Oslo’s voters,” said Borgen, who led the most recent of many large demonstrations in Oslo to save Ullevål Hospital. “Both Labour and the Center Party promised during the election campaign that they would preserve Ullevål, now they’ve switched and it’s hard to understand.”

‘Scandal’
Hallstein Bjercke, who leads the Liberal Party’s delegation on the Oslo City Council, called the state government’s decision “a scandal,” while the Reds’ Member of Parliament Seher Aydar though it was a “bad April Fool’s Day joke.”

Lene Haug, leader of the citizens’ group Redd Ullevål sykehus (Save Ullevål Hospital) told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that she was “shocked and sad.” She claims the state’s new hospital plan “is so incredibly bad” that she’s still hopeful it won’t be realized.

Center Party politicians, meanwhile, admit they simply gave up on the campaign to save Ullevål Hospital. “We put forth our arguments but Labour had a different view and in the end that’s just what happened,” Center Party leader Vedum said last fall, when saving Ullevål was noticeably absent from the new government coalitions’ platform. Vedum is now finance minister.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

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