Staff Shortages Impact Mothers’ Safety, Midwives Say

The vast majority of midwives in Iceland say mothers’ safety has been put at risk due to staff shortages. Almost one-third of midwives have considered leaving the profession altogether within the last two years. Too much strain, staff shortages, and dissatisfaction with how the shortening of the work week has impacted shift work are all named as key reasons.

The data is from a recent survey by BHM which was commissioned by Icelandic Association of Midwives last month. According to the survey, 85% of midwives say the safety of mothers has been put at risk at some point in the past six months due to staff shortages, and 48% of them say that such incidents happen more often than before.

More strain on shift workers

When asked to consider the last six months, 85% of midwives say they have encountered situations where staffing was not sufficient to ensure minimum safety requirements for patients. This percentage is lower among midwives who work daytime hours (72%) and higher among those who work shifts (93%). Notably, 39% of shift workers stated they have often encountered such situations within the past six months.

Dissatisfaction with impacts of “shortened” work week

Three-quarters of midwives stated that the level of strain they experience on the job is “high” or “very high,” and 70% say that strain has increased over time. These figures are higher among shift workers than daytime workers.

When asked how their working conditions had changed with the shortening of the working week, 54% of midwives working shifts in the public healthcare system believe that working conditions have worsened as a result, while only 30% believe that working conditions have improved. There is great satisfaction with the shortened work week among midwives in daytime work, while dissatisfaction among shift workers is mainly related to a system that financially incentivises them to take more evening and night shifts, as well as the negative effect on work flexibility.

Staff shortages and strain have been an issue across Iceland’s healthcare system for years, including among nurses and in emergency care.

High Credit and Debit Card Fees in Iceland

credit cards Arionbanki

Each transaction made abroad with an Icelandic debit card costs nearly ISK 118 [$0.85, €0.79], RÚV reports. A credit card transaction made abroad can cost nearly ISK 200 [$1.44, €1.34]. The chairman of the Consumers’ Association of Iceland says these transaction fees are much higher than in Denmark, for example, and point to a lack of competition between banks in Iceland.

The figures are from a newly-published report from the Central Bank of Iceland on the cost of fund transfers in the year 2022. That year, a debit transaction within Iceland cost an average of ISK 20, but abroad an average of ISK 118. Within Iceland, credit card transactions cost an average of ISK 51, but abroad they cost an average of ISK 177. For debit cards, that figure includes both the transaction fees and annual fees. Credit cards do not carry transaction fees in Iceland but do have annual fees.

Breki Karlsson, the chairman of the Consumers’ Association of Iceland, says these fees are on the rise. “And in international comparison, they are significantly higher as a proportion of GDP than in Denmark, for example.” Fees for using payment cards abroad are applied in the form of exchange rate surcharges, paid every time a payment card is used at a sales merchant. This surcharge does not apply to debit cards issued by Indó, a newer Icelandic bank. Some card issuers also add a transaction fee on top of the surcharge.

Grindavík Businesses Call for More Access

A group of 144 Grindavík businesses have sent an appeal to Icelandic authorities calling for more access to the evacuated town so they can keep their operations running. The town’s municipal authorities have released a statement backing the call. If Grindavík businesses are forced to relocate elsewhere, it’s a death sentence for the community, locals say.

Three eruptions in three months

The town of Grindavík (pop. 3,800), on Iceland’s Reykjanes peninsula, has been more or less evacuated since November 10, when powerful seismic activity damaged buildings are roads in and around the community. Crevasses formed by the activity now crisscross the town, making it dangerous to access certain areas. A worker who fell into a crevasse last month while attempting to repair it has not been found.

Since December, three eruptions have occurred near Grindavík. The second of these, in January, destroyed three houses at the north edge of the town, while the third, in February, flowed over the main road into Grindavík (Route 43). Seismic activity and historical data indicate that further eruptions can be expected in the area.

Fishing industry is main employer

“What all the companies have in common is that they have been very seriously damaged by all the access restrictions,” Pétur Hafsteinn Pálsson told RÚV. He is the CEO of Grindavík seafood company Vísir and acting spokesperson for the 144 businesses in question. “This appeal is primarily about taking matters into our own hands,” Pétur continues, saying that Grindavík contractors have been repairing crevasses across the town and would be able to manage greater access safely on their own, without deferring to authorities.

Pétur and other business owners say the town should be opened to businesses sooner after eruptions are over. “We think that the time between eruptions could have been utilised much better that it has been.” He adds, however, that safety must always be the top priority.

Town’s survival depends on businesses

Grindavík is one of the few towns on the southwest stretch of Iceland’s coast that has a harbour. The fishing industry is the town’s largest employer, with public service being the second largest. Municipal authorities in Grindavík have seconded businesses’ appeal with a statement of their own. “The situation is no longer emergency response, rather a long-term event and businesses have reached their limits and now need to begin creating goods rather than rescuing valuables.”

It is unclear whether or when Grindavík residents will be able to live in the town once more, and the government has offered to buy the homes of those who would prefer to relocate. The businesses’ appeal states, however: “In order for the town to have a chance to build up again, the businesses need to keep their lights on.”

In Focus: A brief chronology of the Reykjanes eruptions

litli-hrútur reykjanes

800 years of quiet Prior to 2021, it had been almost 800 years since a volcanic eruption had occurred on the Reykjanes peninsula in Southwest Iceland. Between 1211 and 1240, a series of eruptions, referred to as the Reykjanes Fires, took place during a heightened period of volcanic activity that began around 950. 2021 Fagradalsfjall […]

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Mumps Diagnosed in Reykjavík Area

doctor nurse hospital health

A case of mumps was diagnosed in Iceland’s capital area in early February. Now, a second person connected to the first case has also been diagnosed with the illness. Mumps is a viral respiratory infection that has been quite rare in Iceland since 1989, though a few outbreaks have occurred since then.

Those who were exposed to the positive mumps cases have been informed by health authorities, according to a notice from the Directorate of Health. Those who were exposed and are unvaccinated were advised to stay away from others to reduce the risk of infection. The gestation period for mumps is about three weeks, so it is possible that other cases will emerge in Iceland.

Vaccination is the most effective protection against mumps and has been routine in Iceland since 1989. Since 2000, a few outbreaks have occurred, mainly in people born between 1985-1987. Older cohorts are generally considered immune due to frequent outbreaks prior to 1984.

Rates of measles rising in Europe

A case of measles was diagnosed in Iceland recently as well, in an adult traveller who had recently arrived from abroad. Chief Epidemiologist Guðrún Aspelund stated that measles infections are on the rise in Europe, which increases the likelihood of an outbreak in Iceland.