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Júlíana Björnsdóttir's picture

Today, doctors from healthcare centers and certain wards at Landspítali National University Hospital start a two-day strike. The reason is inadequate pay and near-impossible working conditions.

On Thursday, five specialist MDs and one registered nurse sat down with a reporter from the news program Kastljós on national broadcaster RÚV to bring attention to the danger that lurks around the corner if nothing is done to properly fund the Icelandic healthcare system.

They brought attention to equipment breakdown, risk of infection in the 80-year-old hospital building and overworked staff that are so busy during the 12-hour shifts that they barely have time for toilet breaks and break time is a luxury.

Surgeons are unable to get X-rays done in time because the MRI breaks down more often than is acceptable. Patients are taken from one location and building to another for different tests and procedures and elevators break down for minutes at a time.

The elevators are too small to bring all the necessary equipment with the patient and therefore the medical staff has to choose the most essential equipment to bring.

One of the specialists described a recent incident while trapped in an elevator, an incident during which a patient went into cardiac arrest while trapped in an elevator with from what I gathered three specialists. One specialist used a defibrillator to resuscitate the patient during which the other two specialists held their breath to prevent receiving the electric shock themselves.

The three specialists and the patient spent ten to 12 minutes in the elevator.

There are not enough oncologists in the country to treat cancer patients in the years to come. From what I’ve heard, only three are currently employed at Landspítali with two approaching retirement.

The equipment with which they treat the patients is outdated and cancer patients are not receiving the latest cancer drugs to fight the disease. Treatments have been re-scheduled when the equipment breaks down.

Someone very close to me has cancer. So far, no treatment has been necessary but how long that lasts is impossible to say. Every time this person starts a sentence with, “I have bad news,” my heart skips a beat. The thought crosses my mind that the cancer is spreading and treatment is necessary.

Thankfully, the bad news so far has not been this bad.

But the fear is always there. And now, my fear is that the best treatment option is no longer available, and that the best drugs will not be available unless the family funds the treatment and medication in Scandinavia or elsewhere.

It’s not that the MDs don’t know what they’re doing. Icelandic MDs and registered nurses are more than qualified to do an incredible job in providing the best care, and the will and ambition to be the best they can be in the profession is there.

But how can they in a decaying hospital and underfunded healthcare system? There is only so much the human hand can do.

It’s so worrying that I have considered buying medical insurance in my husband’s native South Africa. I am actually not 100 percent sure that a non-resident can purchase private medical insurance to receive treatment in South Africa, but it’s something I plan to look into. Just to be on the safe side.

Looking abroad is something more and more Icelanders will start to do if government officials don’t listen to the demands of our medical professionals. The fact that they have held the system together for years now has not gone unnoticed.

Already before the recession of 2008 struck, there was already a growing need for new equipment and further funding to run the healthcare system as it should be run.

I urge the Icelandic government to take responsibility and consider whether human lives are perhaps worth more than a clean budget bill.

Because it seems to me that they can’t see past the excel sheet that is their budget bill for 2015.

And that scares me.

Júlíana Björnsdóttir – julianabjornsdottir@gmail.com

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Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.