Friday, January 21

Norway at the breaking point?

By Tone Sofie Aglen


DEMANDING: To run one place all year round, you need nine intensive care nurses, says Helse Sør-Øst to Aftenposten. In Sweden you can manage with five per bed. This picture shows health personnel working on connecting a corona patient to an ECMO machine at Rikshospitalet in December, an operation that requires large resources.

Worn out workers on the verge of collapse. This is how the health service is described during the pandemic in what is supposed to be the world’s best country to live in. If things are so bad, something must be terribly wrong.


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The health authorities claim that the health service is about to kneel. On social media, it hails with stories from tired and overworked nurses. Now it is no longer possible, says the leader of the Norwegian Nurses’ Association.

At the same time we can read numbers. At the time of writing, 11 corona patients have been admitted to the large St. Olav’s hospital in Trondheim. Two patients receive intensive care with a respirator. A total of nine patients are hospitalized throughout northern Norway. A patient receives intensive care. Across the country, 295 people are hospitalized. About a third receive intensive care. Tomorrow, of course, the picture may be different.

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Raymond Johansen: Demands answers about how much pressure the hospitals really are

Nevertheless, the result is a healthcare system that is described as being on the verge of collapse. Although in the summer months there were about twenty hospitalized due to corona.

For those of us who see this from the outside, it is increasingly demanding to keep up with the turns. The country is in fact shut down. An entire industry is banned from working. After barely making it to work as soon as this autumn, many of us are back in the home office.

When the pandemic broke out, we thought that here it was just listening and doing as the authorities ordered. But almost two years into the pandemic, it is increasingly difficult to understand how the health authorities and our leading politicians think.

It does not get easier because the reasons and the goal are constantly changing. First we had to shut down to save lives. Of course we agreed. Then it was a matter of the intensive care units not collapsing. It was also easy to support.

Then it was a matter of slowing down the infection before we got the vaccine. We got the vaccine without much change. We got another dose, and the third is on its way. The death toll is low, and very few become seriously ill. Of those admitted to hospital, the unvaccinated are strongly overrepresented. Still, we need to shut down to curb the infection.

In an interview with VG this week, Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said that this was about protecting GPs, municipal health services and nursing homes. Minister of Health Ingvild Kjerkol explains this by saying that there is a high burden on emergency rooms and GPs.

Another new argument is that sickness absence can be high, which can affect socially critical functions. Now suddenly the reason is that we should have control.

Then I really have to ask. It is easy to understand that there is a high workload, that some tasks must be put on hold and that we must have some measures. But are we shutting down the country, banning a deeply pressured industry and sending pupils to home school because the municipal health service is under pressure and we fear high sickness absence?

Then we really have a problem.

Because it is not the case that the GP crisis is something that came with covid-19. At St. Olav’s hospital in Trondheim, they went to the yellow level this autumn because “a high number of patients ready for discharge were left in the hospital”. It is also a recurring theme in health care.

I am no longer reassured by reading what Lill Sverresdatter Larsen, leader of the Norwegian Nurses’ Association, writes: «This is no longer possible. It is not the pandemic itself, but that regardless of the government has run health care capacity as a company in high gear for decades. “

A big difference between March 2021 and today is that many more people ask questions. We see, for example, that in the years before the pandemic, more people were hospitalized with respiratory diseases than after.

We have long known that we lack hands that can provide care and health services to an aging population, but we now see a critical shortage of intensive care nurses.

We have not succeeded as well as neighboring countries in upscaling intensive capacity, but have high quality services. While Helse Sør-Øst informs Aftenposten that nine intensive care nurses are required to operate one place all year round, they manage according to Minerva with five per. bed in Sweden.

It is demanding to compare with other countries. But there is little doubt that Norway has a high use of resources in the health service.

In Denmark, which has both far more infected and more than twice as many hospitalized as us, the National Board of Health describes according to Politiken that “the pressure eases a bit, and that the hospitals managed Christmas and New Year better than expected”.

One question that forces itself forward is whether there is anything structurally wrong with how we organize our health care system.

Because it is also not easy to get wise to how much capacity the health care system actually has. In debate after debate, the health authorities have turned away when they have been confronted with where the “breaking point” is. It seems to be as moving a target as the rationale for strict infection control measures.

We also do not know what kind of treatments are now being postponed due to pandemics.

It has been easy to think that you yourself are a little slow who does not understand this.

Oslo City Councilor Raymond Johansen (Labor Party) is now asking for an answer on how much pressure the hospitals really are. He asks Helse-Norge to document that the hospital capacity is so pressured that it may justify keeping tens of thousands of employees away from their jobs. He also asks if it is true that the capacity is 1,200 intensive care units and 4,500 hospital beds, as was stated before Christmas.

Hopefully, the city council leader will get better and more understandable answers than others have received. At worst, it is a meager consolation that even the insiders in dealing with the pandemic do not understand.

Read more comments by Tone Sofie Aglen here

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