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Norway faces possible doctors’ strike as deadline looms for deal

A deadline of midnight on Thursday is approaching for a new collective bargaining agreement over doctors’ working terms in Norway.

Norway faces possible doctors' strike as deadline looms for deal
Illustration photo: Hush Naidoo on Unsplash

If unions and employer representatives are unable to reach agreement by late Thursday, Norway could see doctors going on strike in the coming weeks, VG reports.

Talks between the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities (KS) and the Norwegian Medical Association (NMA) began on Wednesday.

Negotiations between the two sides previously broke down in September, with provisions over on-call working hours a key stumbling block, VG writes.

The NMA has said that it believes the workload of on-call or emergency doctors (vaktleger)is too heavy and that this is to the detriment of both ER doctors and GPs. It has asked for a limit on the amount of on-call work doctors can be required to fulfil.

National broadcaster NRK reported on Thursday that doctors may be working up to 120-hour weeks, while VG’s report cites a Directorate of Health study which found that district doctors covering on-call shifts work an average of 70 hours per week and that this can exceed 100-hour weeks for a small percentage of doctors in smaller municipalities.

The deadline for negotiations is midnight on Thursday, with doctors’ unions scheduled to take member into strike if no new deal is in place.

 

“For about 40 years doctors have been exempt from the working hours provisions of the working environment laws. We can simply no longer accept an unlimited exception. This affects both patients and doctors,” Tor Magne Johnsen, a doctor who has participated in the negotiations, told VG.

The union is asking for doctors to be allowed to consent to working more than seven hours of emergency (legevakt) per week, corresponding to 28 hours of on-call shifts, the newspaper writes.

The association’s president, Marit Hermansen, told VG that everything would be done to reach an agreement with KS but that “like in all (industrial) conflicts, strike is a possible outcome if the parties do not reach agreement”.

KS director Tor Arne Gangsø said that he could not comment on ongoing negotiations but has previously stressed the need for a “long-term solution” to the problem.

READ ALSO: Norway has the world's highest number of doctors and nurses per person

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DOCTORS

Doctors to strike in five Norwegian cities

The Norwegian Medical Association has confirmed that 23 doctors in Tromsø, Trondheim, Narvik, Bergen and Stavanger will go on strike from Monday next week.

Doctors to strike in five Norwegian cities
Photo by Markus Frieauff on Unsplash

The news comes following last week’s breakdown in talks between the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities (KS) and the Norwegian Medical Association (NMA).

READ ALSO: No Norwegian agreement over doctors’ terms as strike awaits

Provisions over on-call working hours are the key stumbling block in the dispute.

The medical association believes that the workload for GPs is too great given that on-call services are added to normal working hours, and with doctors unable to set any limits for how many shifts can be imposed.

The NMA has warned that the scope of the strike could be increased if an agreement is not reached before October 26th, national broadcaster NRK reports.

Between four or five doctors in municipalities affected by the strikes will be taken off duty, NMA union president Marit Hermansen told NRK.

“We take responsible strike action with major on-call services. These are active on-call doctors who also have full-time regular medical practice. But they will (only) be striking as on-call staff,” Hermansen said.

Given the pressure placed on health services by the Covid-19 pandemic, the union leader said the public would be protected from consequences of the strikes as much as possible.

“We are concerned that this walkout will not impact patients or services in a way that endangers life or health. We don’t want to create difficulty for municipalities dealing with the pandemic. That’s why we have chosen five large city municipalities,” she said.

KS has criticised the strike and said that there was currently no basis for renewed talks between the two sides.

“We regret that the NMA has chosen conflict on an issue on which we should sit around the table with the state to find a solution,” the working environments director for KS Tor Arne Gangsø said to NRK.

Any action that affects emergency wards could endanger life and health, Gangsø said.

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