Norway expects more children with respiratory illnesses this winter

Health authorities and doctors in Norway have warned that more children than usual could be hospitalised with respiratory infections this autumn and winter. 

Norway expects more children with respiratory illnesses this winter
Doctors are expecting a influx of children with respiratory illnesses. Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Doctors in Norway are already seeing more children in hospitals with respiratory diseases than is typically common for this time of year and are bracing themselves for even more throughout the autumn and winter. 

“The influx of children with respiratory infections is somewhat greater now in early autumn than it usually is,” Per Kristian Knudsen, the chief doctor in the paediatric ward at Oslo University Hospital Ullevål, told public broadcaster NRK

Hospitals have seen a recent rise in children coming in with respiratory illnesses and expect the trend to continue because coronavirus measures aimed at limiting the spread of infection have had the knock-on effect of limiting the spread of colds, flu, and respiratory diseases. 

This has led to lower immunity in the population, especially among young children. 

“This applies especially to young children, where they may not have encountered any respiratory illnesses at all. As a result, they will lack immunity,” Trine Hessevik Paulsen, a Norwegian Institute of Public Health doctor, explained to the broadcaster. 

READ MORE: Why health experts in Norway are more worried about flu than new Covid-19 variants

Hessvik Paulsen pointed to large outbreaks of RS (respiratory syncytial virus) in Sweden and Denmark. 

“In some countries, there have been quite large outbreaks of RS virus which can cause serious respiratory disease in the youngest children,” Hessvik Paulsen said. 

Senior children’s doctor Knudsen has said that the hospital Oslo University Hospital, Ullevål was preparing for a surge in patients this winter.

“More children than usual could be infected, and we are prepared for a large influx of patients with these different respiratory viruses,” he said. 

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Why are more people waiting to be given a GP in Norway?

As many as 116,000 people are waiting to be given a "fastlege", or GP, in Norway. So, why are residents having to wait to be assigned a doctor?

More than 116,000 people are waiting to be given a GP in Norway. Pictured is a picture of a stethoscope and some paperwork.
More than 116,000 people are waiting to be given a GP in Norway. Pictured is a picture of a stethoscope and some paperwork. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.

A recent quarterly report from the Norwegian Directorate of Health has revealed that 116,000 people in Norway are on the waiting list to be given a GP

Furthermore, the number of those without a doctor has grown in recent years, with those in rural and northern parts of the country more likely to be left waiting for a GP. 

The current GP scheme in Norway allows everyone to choose their own doctor, who acts as the patients’ main point of contact with the health service. Your GP is also responsible for your primary medical needs, and you are allowed to change your doctor twice a year. 

READ ALSO: How Norway’s health insurance scheme works and the common problems foreigners face

Doctors in Norway have warned that a lack of funding and staff is threatening the GP system. 

“The GP scheme is on the verge of collapsing because there are too few doctors,” Bernand Holthe, a GP on the board of the Nordland Medical Association and a member of GP’s association for the area, told public broadcaster NRK

He says that reform in 2012 to the GP system has left doctors with too much work with not enough resources at their disposal. 

“After the collaboration reform in 2012, the GP scheme has been given too many tasks without receiving a corresponding amount of resources,” Holthe said. 

The government has pledged around 450 million in funding for GPs in its state budget for 2022, which Holthe argues isn’t enough to recruit the number of GPs necessary. 

Nils Kristian Klev and Marte Kvittum Tangen who represent the country’s 5,000 or so GPs also said they were disappointed with the level of funding allocated for doctors in the national budget. 

“The Labor Party was clear before the election that they would increase the basic funding in the GP scheme. This is by far the most important measure to ensure stability and recruitment and it is urgent,” the pair told Norwegian newswire NTB.

Patients have been left frustrated, and in a recent survey on healthcare in the country, one reader of The Local expressed their frustration at not having a GP. 

“I moved from Olso to Tromso, and I’m currently without a GP. Helsenorge didn’t think this was an issue and told me to visit a hospital if I needed to see a doctor. How can a municipality have no places for a doctor? Everyone has a right to a local doctor, and I’ve been left with nothing. All I can do is join a waiting list in the hopes a place turns up before I get ill,” Sinead from Tromsø said in the survey. 

Another reader described the fastlege system as “horrible”. 

Key vocabulary

Fastlege– GP 

Legevakt– Emergency room

Sykehus– Hospital 

Helseforsikring– Health insurance

Legekontor- Doctors office