Pillar of Society at Risk of Collapse (JB)

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julianabjornsdottir_dlIn society, we abide by rules of conscience as well as the law, and both are equally important.

The primary rules of conscience are to nurture and respect one another. Those are the foundations of our society and the ones that in my mind are the least stable in times of crisis.

In times of crisis we focus on the things that directly affect our lives and sometimes forget those two primary rules. And that is the case in Iceland at the moment.

Good healthcare is a pillar of society; healthcare that provides equal service to all members of society irrelevant of their financial successes in life.

Healthcare is one of many state-run services that have suffered since the Icelandic economy collapsed in 2008. After years of cutbacks, the healthcare system is so cracked it might collapse in its entirety.

Close to 300 nurses, many of whom are surgical nurses whose backs are bent from excessive stress and workload, resigned late last year to protest the poor conditions under which they work.

The weight of being responsible for the lives of patients in need of surgery or other medical services is undervalued by the Icelandic government.

I do by no means agree with the hyperbolic criticism that members of the opposition parties have expressed in recent months and years concerning pretty much everything the government does.

The government has accomplished a lot and succeeded in getting us out of the worst of the economic crisis. But I think they went too far in cutting back funds to the healthcare system.

Human health is worth more than economic health. Spain is a country with severe economic problems and an unemployment rate higher than Iceland has ever seen, yet through it all, they’ve managed to keep the healthcare system together.

If you get sick in Spain, you will get quality healthcare that puts most countries to shame.

In Iceland, wards are understaffed and staff works long hours for salary that is by no means suitable for the level of education they have and the heavy responsibility that they carry on their shoulders.

This has resulted in mass resignations, not only among nurses. For example, at the orthopedic surgery ward at Landspítali National University Hospital, five physicians have resigned, leaving one resident and a six-year student.

How long the medical student in question will persevere, I don’t know. After all, he or she is there to learn.

Without a number of experienced staff to learn from, I don’t know what purpose a residency in such a hospital that is our Landspítali—the one that handles the most severe cases for the entire country—has become is to serve.

Frankly, I’m worried.

Nursing staff and doctors are criticized for their resignations. But how can anyone blame them?

These are people with years and years of training on their backs. These are people who choose to make a living rescuing lives.

Most of them deal with critical cases on a daily basis. They work under highly stressful conditions and only ask to receive a salary that is worthy of the hefty weight that comes with the job.

About a year ago, a lawyer was stabbed several times in his office. His case was critical. He came to the Landspítali and was greeted by a team of doctors who did not give up on him despite his slim chances of survival but decided to operate. The lawyer is a bit of a walking miracle.

If this would happened one month from now with no team of surgical experts available, the victim would not survive.

The situation has worsened already. Recently, two deaths were reported as a result of human error.

The first that came to mind when I head about those deaths was fear.

If the winding-up boards that are in charge of disintegrating the old banks are rewarded as richly as rumor has it, and politicians get extra salaries for committee work, why is it too much to ask that medical professionals get paid respectable salaries?

Without them, we are in a hopeless situation. Emergency cases cannot be transported to Sweden or Denmark or any other of our friendly neighbors.

I doubt the six-year medical student and the remaining residents, along with the few surgical nurses left, will be able to take on every single emergency case that comes along. They need to sleep, eat and be with their families.

I came across a list of recommended professions for qualified nurses in the U.S. who want to specialize within a specific field and their salary expectations.

The difference in salary is enormous.

Icelanders generally support the salary demands of healthcare workers but nonetheless, there are always those who compare their jobs to those of medical professionals.

In most cases, they don’t come close in terms of importance to society.

Teachers have important jobs too and should be paid more. No doubt about that. The same goes for police officers—another pillar of society—who are also underpaid and understaffed.

It’s our duty to nurture and respect each other. Fair demands of higher salaries for medical professionals, who treat us in our direst of times, should be supported, not rejected.

Júlíana Björnsdóttir – julianabjornsdottir@gmail.com

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