Norway hospitals raise alarm over shortage of nurses from Sweden and Denmark

The border closure between Norway and Sweden has not come without problems, some more serious than others including job losses and a shortage of nurses at Norwegian hospitals.

Norway hospitals raise alarm over shortage of nurses from Sweden and Denmark

Since the borders closed with Sweden last month and testing-requirements for Swedish commuting health personnel were tightened, Norwegian hospitals have faced issues due to understaffing, broadcaster TV2 reports.

Instead of being able to go straight to work after a negative Covid-test, the new requirements demand commuting health personnel to quarantine for three days before getting tested.

Oslo University Hospital (OUS) raised the alarm after revealing they were unable to cover 330 shifts last week due to a lack of specialist nurses. The A&E department was the hardest hit, where 203 shifts were supposed to be covered by Danish and Swedish staff. 

Since the requirement for testing was introduced in July, Oslo University Hospital has tested more than 3,000 commuting staffers. Of these, only five tested positive for coronavirus according to TV2.

Head of the A&E department at Oslo University Hospital, Øyvind Skraastad, told the broadcaster that the situation was rapidly deteriorating.
“For each week that passes, the situation gets worse and worse,” he said.
“We are not self-sufficient and therefore dependent on temporary staff from abroad with specialist expertise.
“We understand that there is a need for general restrictions to kill the virus, but believe that in regards to socially critical functions, consequences were not considered thoroughly prior to restrictions being adopted,” he said.
The hospital chief said the staff commuting from abroad are often used to cover inconvenient working hours at night and on weekends.
“We bring in highly qualified specialist nurses from Sweden and Denmark, and when they disappear we get a huge problem,” he said.
“We managed it this weekend because we moved staff from the daytime shifts during the week over to the weekend, but we can not continue like that.”

Understaffing means the hospitals now have to postpone scheduled surgeries. Children at the intensive care unit awaiting surgery will be most affected, because many Swedish and Danish specialists work there.
Hilde Myhren, Medical Director at the hospital said: “We have 70 to 80 intensive care nurses who come to us every week. They have expertise that we don’t have in Norway, so we cover these shifts with Swedish and Danish specialist nurses.”

Currently there is no indication from the Norwegian Government that restrictions regarding quarantine for critical health personnel will be changed anytime soon.

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Could Oslo-Copenhagen overnight train be set for return?

A direct overnight rail service between the Norwegian and Danish capitals has not operated since 2001, but authorities in Oslo are considering its return.

Norway’s transport minister Knut Arild Hareide has asked the country’s railway authority Jernbanedirektoratet to investigate the options for opening a night rail connection between Oslo and Copenhagen.

An answer is expected by November 1st, after which the Norwegian government will decide whether to go forward with the proposal to directly link the two Nordic capitals by rail.

Jernbanedirektoratet is expected to assess a timeline for introducing the service along with costs, market and potential conflicts with other commercial services covering the route.

“I hope we’ll secure a deal. Cross-border trains are exciting, including taking a train to Malmö, Copenhagen and onwards to Europe,” Hareide told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

The minister said he envisaged either a state-funded project or a competition awarding a contract for the route’s operation to the best bidder.

A future Oslo-Copenhagen night train rests on the forthcoming Jernbanedirektoratet report and its chances of becoming a reality are therefore unclear. But the Norwegian rail authority earlier this year published a separate report on ways in which passenger train service options from Norway to Denmark via Sweden can be improved.

“We see an increasing interest in travelling out of Norway by train,” Jernbanedirektoratet project manager  Hanne Juul said in a statement when the report was published in January.

“A customer study confirmed this impression and we therefore wish to make it simpler to take the train to destinations abroad,” Juul added.

Participants in the study said that lower prices, fewer connections and better information were among the factors that would encourage them to choose the train for a journey abroad.

Norway’s rail authority also concluded that better international cooperation would optimise cross-border rail journeys, for example by making journey and departure times fit together more efficiently.

The Femahrn connection between Denmark and Germany, currently under construction, was cited as a factor which could also boost the potential for an overland rail connection from Norway to mainland Europe.

Night trains connected Oslo to Europe via Copenhagen with several departures daily as recently as the late 1990s, but the last such night train between the two cities ran in 2001 amid dwindling demand.

That trend has begun to reverse in recent years due in part to an increasing desire among travellers to select a greener option for their journey than flying.

Earlier this summer, a new overnight train from Stockholm to Berlin began operating. That service can be boarded by Danish passengers at Høje Taastrup near Copenhagen.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about the new night train from Copenhagen to Germany