Economic Inequality Impacting Health Care in Iceland

Director of Health Alma Möller

According to Director of Health, Alma Möller, Icelandic authorities must tackle economic inequality, as it affects health care outcomes.

In an interview with Heimildin this weekend, Alma said that even if most people imagine there to be equality when it comes to health care in Iceland, the reality is different. “People with an economic disadvantage are more likely to have long-term illnesses that can greatly impact their quality of life and shorten it,” she said.

She added that improving the health of the poor is a task that the health care system can not accomplish alone. “Authorities need to make equality a priority and society as a whole needs to work together,” she said. “Because inequality affects us all.”

Inherited poverty

The Directorate of Health is a government agency that promotes high-quality and safe health care for the people of Iceland, health promotion, and effective disease prevention measures. Alma, the first woman to serve as Director, is therefore a key voice on health care policy in Iceland.

“We need to face this issue and start with the children,” she said. “Nothing is more valuable for communities than to keep children out of poverty. If people start their lives in a tough spot, it’s hard for them to recover. We need to create conditions in society so that people have the opportunity to live a healthy life. Poverty, in fact, is something that people inherit, much like trauma.”

Excess outsourcing

Alma is an anaesthetist and intensive care physician who turned her attention to public health. She became Director in 2018 and was a leading figure during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the interview, she went on to warn against excess outsourcing of health care services to private companies that could weaken the core competencies of the Landspítali, The National University Hospital of Iceland. “Decisions on outsourcing must always be made on the basis of patient welfare and the common good,” she said.

Women Doctors Uncover Gender Pay Gap at Children’s Hospital

Landspítali national hospital

Three paediatricians at Landspítali, The National University Hospital of Iceland, uncovered a gender pay gap at the children’s wing, Vísir reports. The women’s pay has since been adjusted accordingly and they’ve been given back pay to correct the injustice.

The three paediatricians, all women, started investigating salaries in the wake of the Women’s Strike last October. They utilised a clause in legislation that allowed them to access the salaries of all specialist doctors at the children’s and women’s wing and discovered that the men received higher pay, irrespective of qualifications.

Women’s experience not valued

According to collective bargaining agreements, doctor pay is mostly determined by education and the length of their careers. In addition, administrators can make a subjective choice on additional pay, taking into account factors such as subspecialties, administrative experience, and research and teaching history. A memo on how these factors should be evaluated was published in 2016, but was not used when the women were hired that same year.

A small gap remains

The women published an article in The Icelandic Medical Journal exposing the pay gap after appealing to a public committee on equality. Hospital administrators corrected their pay accordingly. Furthermore, the hospital looked into the wage setting of all specialist doctors at the hospital and found a 1.4% bias towards men. The hospital has had an equal pay certification since 2020 and a goal of keeping the gender pay gap under 2.5% at any time.

“I will never again believe that wage setting is fair,” said one of the doctors, Helga Elídóttir. “I’ll need to look for myself.”

Blackout and Snow Storm Cause Dozens of Car Crashes

Reykjavík from above, housing crisis Iceland

A power outage coincided with a snow storm in Reykjavík yesterday afternoon, leading to traffic chaos. A number of central neighbourhoods experienced blackouts due to a high-voltage breakdown, while at the same time, motorists braved the storm with little help from malfunctioning traffic lights.

“What happened is that it snowed a lot in a very short amount of time, the snow got compressed down and became very slippery,” Árni Friðleifsson of the Reykjavík Metropolitan Police told RÚV.

Around 30 traffic accidents had been reported to roadside assistance firm Arekstur when RÚV contacted them in the late afternoon. “We’ve dispatched all our cars and the traffic is completely halted,” said Arekstur CEO Kristján Kristjánsson.

Hospitals on back-up power

Due to the power outage, Landspítali hospitals in Fossvogur and at Hringbraut had to pull from back-up power. This was also the case for Reykjavík airport (RVK), which mostly services domestic flights. However, while both the airport itself and the air traffic control centre were operational, a blackout at the terminal delayed a flight to Akureyri for about an hour, as all luggage had to be manually checked in.

By evening, power had been restored. The rush hour traffic cleared up as traffic lights came back on and the storm cleared.

Orthopedist: Surgical Waiting Lists for Children “Unacceptable”

Press photo of the year 2020

An orthopedist at Landspítalinn hospital has told the Minister of Health that surgical waiting lists for children are unacceptable. “I can’t get them into surgery within an acceptable time frame,” Sigurveig Pétursdóttir told Willum Þór Þórsson during an annual meeting of the Icelandic Medical Association in October.

“I’m on my knees”

Sigurveig Pétursdóttir, 64, has been employed as a doctor for 38 years. She’s spent 30 years working with disabled children as a paediatric orthopedist. At an annual meeting of the Icelandic Medical Association, held on October 14, Sigurveig told Minister of Health Willum Þór Þórsson that the state of the hospital “has never been worse.”

Read More: Mass Resignations at the University Hospital

“I’ve got children who’ve waited a year,” she called out from the assembly hall, according to a transcript of the meeting published by the Icelandic Medical Journal: “A disabled child who walks with one leg crooked for an entire year because there’s no space in the operating room. And why is there no space? Well, because the staff has quit. It’s not a matter of not having the staff. They quit. The hospital’s a mess. It’s a mess right now. It’s not going to become a mess tomorrow. It didn’t happen yesterday.”

Sigurveig preempted familiar bureaucratic talking points with the statement that all talk of analysis and assessment was unacceptable: “I’ve heard it a hundred times, but the situation has never been worse than now,” she stated. “It means nothing to me, being told that I did so well during the pandemic, not having missed a day of work.”

“I’m on my knees,” she continued. “I’m giving up, and I’m not the kind of person who gives up when things get rough. But no one will be able to walk in my shoes. No one!”

Increased funding required

Those present at the annual meeting urged the government to heed the will of the public and to increase healthcare funding. They also announced their disappointment in next year’s budget bill, urged healthcare institutions to ensure the safety of their staff, and called for actions to be taken to deal with the failing health of doctors and the growing number of healthcare professionals who are resigning from their jobs.

In late October, sixteen middle managers employed at the National University Hospital of Iceland received letters of termination. The terminations stemmed from the adoption of a new organisational chart intended to improve the hospital’s operations.

“The main purpose is to get a handle on the hospital’s management and operations, to strengthen our clinical services, and to harmonise other key services,” Runólfur remarked in an interview with RÚV.