Healthcare cuts in rural Iceland: a case study

Next year’s proposed health budgets in Iceland are causing a headache for all involved: from politicians and doctors, to pensioners and regional development agencies. One stark example is in the Westfjords region, where cuts threaten the very existence of Isafjordur hospital and could cause further regional de-population.

BB.is reports that Eirikur Finnur Greipsson, the chairman of the Isafjardarbaer town council, believes that proposed financial cut backs in the region’s healthcare next year will be a lethal blow that could close the hospital altogether.

The northern Westfjords region is looking at an ISK 201 million cut from this year’s ISK 1.02 billion. The cuts will almost entirely be focused on primary patient care and will mean a 40 percent cut to Isafjordur hospital’s funding.

Greipsson says that if the hospital stops having doctors on call, stops diagnostics, closes its X-ray department, closes its maternity ward and its accident and emergency department, it would still face a shortfall of ISK 80 million.

Some of the knock-on effects of these changes would be the partial or total closure of the operating theatre, an end to endoscopy and colonoscopy services and cancer treatment, among others.

Societally, these changes could mean a collapse of local healthcare services and the departure of at least 12 doctors and health professionals and their families from the region worst affected by de-population and trying the hardest to improve services and attract new people.

Many more people would need to drive or fly to Reykjavik for increasingly minor problems – all at the expense of state insurance.

Finally, many young people leave the Westfjords and then return to raise families. This crucial coming-home could be endangered if the maternity ward closes. Locals gathered in Isafjordur last night in a huge protest (by the small town’s standards). Many businesses that would ordinarily have been open in the evening closed early to allow staff to join the protest to save the hospital.

The story in the Westfjords is being repeated elsewhere in Iceland – including Husavik and the Westman Islands, where mothers-to-be are potentially facing sea or air travel to Reykjavik in order to give birth.

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