Health care workers, hospital administrators and residents of Northern Norway are sounding alarms over both staffing and funding shortages, which may even force the closure of some hospitals entirely. “We’re issuing a code red,” said the leader of Norway’s national nurses’ union at their recent annual meeting.
Lill Sverresdatter Larsen seemed to almost take pity on the state health care administrators tasked with conforming to political mandates. “Helse Nord (responsible for administration of hospitals in Northern Norway) faces challenges that can’t be solved unless the Parliament sets party politics aside,” said the nurses’ leader.
Hospital consolidation and shutdowns in Northern Norway are a signal that things are going very wrong with Norwegian public health care, Larsen added. She urged more politicians to step in because of what hospital closures can mean for settlement patterns in the north, emergency preparedness and patient safety.
Helse Nord feels it has little choice but to greatly reduce hospital capacity in Lofoten (also a popular destination for tourists), along the Helgeland coast and in the northern regions of Troms and Finnmark. Lofoten residents are fighting hard to keep their hospital and especially its maternity ward, to avoid patients having to be transported over the often treacherous Vestfjorden to Bodø.
Adminstrators face not only funding limitations but also severe shortages of nurses and other health care workers, which is what’s prompting them to consolidate services at larger locations. Newspaper Dagsavisen reports how 5,500 nursing positions remain unfilled at present, and that there are 900 empty spots at nursing schools in Norway. Nursing simply isn’t attracting new talent, in part because of relatively low pay, long hours and lots of night- and weekend shifts.
Small hospitals in remote areas, not least in Northern Norway, have trouble recruiting health care professionals. That often results in expensive employment of temporary workers.
The nurses’ organization is calling on state politicians to unite and secure health care services nationwide. They fear the consequences that hospital closures can have. “The government also needs to embrace the process,” Larsen said. “That will demand real priorities in terms of funding,” she added, urging more emphasis on better education programs and recruiting, along with programs aimed at keeping nurses in the profession.
Four emergency hospitals and two maternity wards risk shutdown in Northern Norway, also in Narvik, Bronnøysund and Storslett. Two of three hospitals along the Helgeland coast may be closed.
Hundreds of local residents have been marching in torch-lit demonstrations in Lofoten and in Oslo, where residents and local politicians are still trying to keep the capital’s huge Ullevål Hospital from being replaced by a much more dense complex at Gaustad. Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol has flatly rejected calls to “save Ullevål Hospital,” and refrains from commenting on the situation in Northern Norway, where Helse Nord is expected to cut costs by around NOK 250 million.
Kerkol has said she’ll wait with any political action until she receives a final recommendation from Helse Nord in April, claiming its adminstrators are responsible for the process until then.