Report: ‘Immediate action’ required to improve Norway’s GP system

The Norwegian Directorate of Health has warned in a recent report that more needs to be done to address a shortage of GPs and potential health inequalities. 

Medical equipment.
The Norwegian Directorate of Health has said that immediate action was required to address a shortage of GPs. Pictured is medical equipment. Photo by Marcelo Leal on Unsplash

A recent report has painted a gloomy picture of the current GP system and found that a GP shortage could lead to increased health inequality in Norway. 

The latest quarterly report from the Norwegian Directorate of Health found that more needed to be done to address problems with the GP system. 

“There is a need for further immediate measures with immediate effect and strengthened efforts also in the longer term,” the report stated. 

150,000 Norwegians are currently without a GP. The reason for the shortfall is problems with recruitment. 

“I am worried about this, and the concern has increased in the last couple of years. So it is important that we manage to prioritise this in the health service today,” Bjørn Guldvog, director of health at the Norwegian Directorate of Health, told broadcaster TV2.

In a survey on Norway’s health system among The Local’s readers, the most common complaint among foreign residents was long waiting times to be given a GP. 

READ MORE: What do foreign residents think of the Norwegian healthcare system?

The health directorate warned that the most vulnerable patients would be the hardest hit as they don’t have access to or can pay for private healthcare. 

“Such a development can, over time, lead to increased social inequality in health, weaken continuity and, in the absence of follow-up, lead to a worsening of illness,” the report found. 

The Norwegian Medical Association has previously said that 2.3 billion kroner in funding were required to solve issues with the GP system. 

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EXPLAINED: How to register with a doctor in Norway 

If you're here for the long term, you will need to sign up for a GP or 'fastlege', who will be the main point of contact for your health needs. Here's what you need to know about the GP system. 

EXPLAINED: How to register with a doctor in Norway 

The overwhelming majority in Norway are entitled to a general doctor, GP, or as it’s known in Norwegian, a fastlege

Broadly speaking, those living and working in Norway legally are automatically enrolled in the Norwegian National Insurance Scheme. Everyone who is a part of this scheme is entitled to healthcare services and a GP by extension

One thing to note is that to be entitled to a GP, you will need to have a national identity number rather than a D-number. If you are unsure whether you are entitled to a GP, you can call helsenorge’s helpline (47 23 32 70 00). 

You won’t automatically be assigned a GP, though, you will have to register yourself.

READ ALSO: Six essential words you need when speaking to a doctor in Norway

How to sign up 

To find a GP, you will need to head to Norway’s digital health portal, helsenorge, and log in. You will need an electronic ID such as Commfides, BankID or Buypass ID to sign in. 

Once signed up, you can select the county you are in and see a list of doctors in your local area. The list will have the doctor’s name, age and gender, and if a substitute is covering them. 

In addition to this, the list includes how many spots the doctor has left for patients. If the GP you want isn’t available, you can join a waiting list. 

Am I allowed to change my doctor? 

If it doesn’t go to plan with the doctor you selected, you are allowed to change your doctor twice a year. 

You are allowed to change your GP two times in one calendar year. You can also change your fastlege if your address in the national population register changes or the GP leaves the surgery or cuts their patient list. 

The change becomes effective from the first day of the following month. 

What else should I know? 

More and more residents have been left without a doctor or on a waiting list in recent years. 

The number of people without or waiting for a GP in March 2021 was 150,000, according to the latest annual report on the state of the fastlege system from the Norwegian Directorate of Health

An earlier report from the directorate has warned that a GP shortage could eventually lead to increased health inequality in Norway

Previous reports have said that the reason for the large number of people waiting for a GP was problems with recruiting more doctors. 

One piece of practical information you’ll need to be aware of is that when you change GPs, it is your responsibility to ensure your medical records are transferred to the new GP. You’ll need to contact your former GP surgery and ask them to forward your record to your new practice. 

And finally, it’s worth clearing up the misconception that healthcare in Norway is free. It isn’t. It’s actually covered by the National Insurance Scheme, with users paying small subsidies for healthcare. For example, a consultation with a GP costs 160 kroner

What do foreigners think of the GP system? 

The Local’s readers have previously shared their thoughts on the country’s healthcare system. Among the positives were competent GPs, excellent quality of treatment, and good quality service. 

Some said that finding a same-day appointment with their GP. 

However, this doesn’t apply to everyone’s experience, and the most frequent issues readers had were long waiting lists for appointments and being assigned a GP. 

READ MORE: What do foreigners think of the Norwegian healthcare system?