Healthcare in Iceland is excellent. Hospital workers traditionally receive top quality education and facilities always the best that can be obtained. Until of course (at the risk of whipping a dead horse anew), the banking system failed Icelandic society.
Within a month of government belt-tightening, the hospital experienced drastic changes.
Staff saw this first reflected in their wages. Premiums for shift schedule changes, night shifts and holidays were drastically reduced. Although much grumbling ensued, many understood the situation and just hunkered down to work.
Then came the 'rolling closures.' In an effort to save on salaries and other costs, departments were closed in turns during the summer months. I had to wait one month to be operated on when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2009 because of the closure of an operating room. I was told that there were more people sicker than me who needed surgery.
The department I work in was also closed for one month in 2011 and staf f either worked in other departments or went on their regular summer holidays. Discounted rates for services were also canceled for hospital personnel (yes Virginia, most things are not free in the Icelandic healthcare system).
Outsourcing also came into play. Cleaning staff were fired en masse and jobs outsourced to a private cleaning company. Hospital canteen services were also outsourced to a private company for a year or so although the hospital has since taken over the facility again.
It does not end there. We were also told to watch out for the little things: food orders, linen changes, laundry, office supplies, etc. Everything was monitored closely. Many even thought that this was in fact a good thing. Tiresome, but necessary.
So, you see, this nursing row is just the tip of the iceberg. Already understaffed before the bank crisis, and impacted by the migration of nurses and doctors to better paying jobs in Denmark and Norway, something like this was bound to happen.
Healthcare budgets are notorious for being larger than most government departments, making it the most obvious area to cut down on expenses. Then again, healthcare budgets are often large because it is where it is most needed.
As for nurses? Well, the nursing profession has always gotten the short end of the stick. If you think about it, Icelandic nurses are even kind enough to give the hospital time to offer solutions and resolve the issue. Not so in other parts of the world. In the last three months, nurses have gone on strike, walking out with just a few days warning in California (Christmas Eve, 2012), Israel (December 20, 2012), Bangalore, India (January 18, 2013) and Kenya (ongoing and in its third month).
It is a thankless, unglamorous, totally service-oriented job. All these things nurses already know. I believe though that it is just not the pay or the work hours that Icelandic nurses are fighting for because they’ve already endured pay cuts as a consequence of shift work adjustments and lower overtime premiums.
This time, as a fellow nurse quietly said, “It’s a matter of self-respect.”
Marvi Ablaza Gil – firstname.lastname@example.org