Barring immediate government action, 2,100 nurses are expected to go on strike at midnight tonight as part of an ongoing series of strikes organized by the member-unions of the Icelandic Association of Academics (BHM), ruv.is reports.
While approximately 500 exceptions will be issued to maintain those services deemed absolutely necessary, a state of emergency is expected to commence unless the situation is swiftly resolved. A minimum of 100 emergency spaces will be closed, as well as all day and outpatient wards, and as many patients as possible will be discharged.
In a statement issued this morning by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer, Birgir Jakobsson, chief medical officer, and Haraldur Briem, chief epidemiologist, expressed grave concern over the consequences such a strike might have on patient well-being and the state of the health care system. Both urged the government to take legal action if necessary to avert a strike.
“We will need to reduce the number of beds on some wards, and combine the services of other wards. All potential discharges will be evaluated on a case by case basis. Those who cannot be safely discharged should not be discharged,” said Sigríður Gunnarsdóttir, director of nursing at Landspítali National University Hospital, in an interview with Vísir today.
The group of discharged patients will likely include a number of senior citizens currently admitted to inpatient units while awaiting nursing home placements. “Many will have to rely on their next of kin. In-home nursing care providers are included in the strike which will have major consequences…There are exceptions issued for in-home nursing as well, but the declared cap for such exceptions has been reached and no further applications will be accepted,” Sigríður added, emphasizing the importance of resolving the situation with haste.
Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson’s remarks in an interview with Stöð 2 on Sunday, that negotiations with government employees would not be considered until negotiations on the broader labor market conclude, were poorly received by representatives of BHM and the Icelandic Nurses’ Association. His statements were interpreted by some as suggesting that anti-strike legislation would be prioritized over negotiations.
In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Ólafur G. Skúlason, chair of the Icelandic Nurses’ Association, was highly critical of the suggestion that legislative action would be required to maintain patient safety, and emphasized safety protocols ensuring that any patient safety crisis would be met with a corresponding increase in strike exceptions for nurse practitioners.
“Things have moved very little in the right direction, and so we do not expect that a strike can be prevented at present,” said Ólafur to Vísir.
“If you look at the average standard wage for nurses, as compared to average standard wages among other university-educated professions, there is up to a 14-25 percent difference, which we find completely unacceptable,” he added.
“We will of course go about this with the safety of our patients at the forefront. It is the government’s job to ensure the existence of an effective health care system, and if things continue on this trajectory we will be facing a massive shortage of nurses in the near future. So this is a very serious issue and the salaries of nurses must be emended.”