Four Leap Day Births in Iceland So Far

Iceland welcomed its first leap day baby of 2024 at just 13 minutes past midnight, Vísir reports. According to a midwife on shift, the baby was a boy. Around 8:00 AM this morning, four leap-day babies had been born at the National University Hospital of Iceland.

According to Statistics Iceland, as of 2023, there were 234 individuals in Iceland with a birthday on February 29. In a special offer posted on social media, Hótel Rangá in South Iceland offered ten of these individuals free accommodation on their birthday this year, complete with champagne and cake.

ICU Beset by Strep Throat, Other Respiratory Infections

landspítali hospital

A wave of serious strep throat infections combined with other respiratory infections has brought the intensive care unit to a breaking point, RÚV reports. The ICU has not seen as many inpatients since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.

Headed towards a state of emergency

There are as many patients at the National University Hospital’s intensive care unit today as there were during the pandemic, RÚV reports. A senior physician told the National Broadcaster that the ICU was headed for a state of an emergency; respiratory infections, such as strep throat (an infection of the upper respiratory tract, caused a bacterium known as Streptococcus pyogenes), have run rampant recently.

As of yesterday, 19 patients were staying in the intensive care unit (22 were staying in the ICU at its peak last weekend). There are only fourteen beds. The ICU has not seen such numbers for a long time.

“Not since the first wave of COVID-19,” Kári Hreinsson, Manager of Surgery, Anaesthesia, and Intensive Care Services at Landspítalan Hospital, told RÚV yesterday. “It’s been close in the past, with nearly 20 patients in total, but we’ve not exceeded these numbers.” He emphasised that none of this would have been possible were it not for the diligence and hard work of the staff.

Kári points out that a state of emergency was declared when 27 people were admitted to the intensive care unit with COVID-19. He says that it has been discussed whether a state of emergency needs to be declared, but the situation has not yet become that bad.

“This is not something that passes in two or three days, this respiratory infection epidemic that has been going on for quite some time and we don’t quite see it coming to an end yet.”

A series of serious streptococcal infections, in combination with the other respiratory infections that seem to be spreading throughout society, has added insult to injury.

“It makes for a much more dangerous disease and more difficult to treat,” Kári stated.

When there are not enough beds, intensive care patients are transferred to the post-surgical care unit (vöknunardeild). When asked if this affected other patients or elective surgeries, Kári stated that this was not the case yet. “But it’s something that could happen in the next few days.”

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.

Patients Wait in Ambulances Due to Lack of Beds in ER

All of the beds in Landspítali’s emergency room at Fossvogur were full on Friday night, forcing patients to wait in ambulances until beds became available in the ER, RÚV reports.

According to the duty officer at the Metropolitan Fire Department, which also oversees capital-area ambulance transportation, it’s not unusual for patients to wait for a bed in the ER, although the duty officer was careful to say that Friday’s situation is not a common problem. Rather they stressed that paramedics provide patient care to those waiting to be admitted to the ER and room is always made for priority patients.

See Also: Mass Resignations at the University Hospital

Fourteen nurses resigned from the ER at the end of August, largely due to stress within the department.

According to Soffía Steingrímsdóttir, who was an ER nurse at the Landspítali for almost eight years, the resignations were “a long time coming. We’ve been trying to call attention to stressful work conditions and the threat to the safety of our patients for years now. Over these past two years, especially – when conditions have been unacceptable.”

At the time, hospital director Runólfur Pálsson said that hospital administrators would do everything in their power to reverse this trend. “The work conditions are extremely difficult. There’s a lot of stress, which means that people resign, which leads to staff shortages, which makes things even more difficult. It’s a vicious cycle that we’ve been trying to break.”

On Friday, nurse and assistant head of the ER Hildur Dís Kristjánsdóttir weighed in, saying the ER didn’t need to employ as many nurses as it previously did, as there are fewer patients being admitted on a regular basis.

As of September 1, the hospital’s stated goal is that no more than 20 patients should be in the ER at any one time.

Baby Boom in North Iceland

baby swimming

Almost 500 babies were born in the Akureyri Hospital in North Iceland last year. RÚV reports that this is an increase of nearly 26% from the year before. The announcement was made at the hospital’s annual meeting this week. There was a general increase in patient numbers: Akureyri Hospital treated 13,500 patients in 2021, up 22% from the year before.

In 2021, there were precisely 491 babies born in 488 births (three sets of twins) at Akureyri Hospital. In 2020, by contrast, there were 397 babies born in 392 births (that year, five sets of twins). This makes 2021 Akureyri’s second-most fruitful year on the books; the current record for most babies born in Iceland’s ‘capital of the north’ in one year is 515 babies in 2010.

Births were up in the actual capital as well, but not nearly as much. In 2021, 3,466 babies were born at Reykjavík’s National and University Hospital, which is just 5% over the previous year’s rate.

Akureyri Hospital CEO Hildigunnur Svavarsdóttir says the reason for the jump in birth numbers is difficult to determine with any certainty, although she readily concedes to the winking supposition that “people got bored during COVID.”

“That’s one explanation for sure, and a lot of people are giving each other knowing smiles,” she remarked. “But I have no explanation for it—I just think it’s a really joyous thing. We could do with more of us up here.”

Long Waiting Lists for Most Elective Surgical Procedures

According to a newly-published report by the Directorate of Health, waiting lists for most elective surgical procedures are too long. Individuals electing for knee-replacement surgery, for example, must wait for 12 months on average. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on waiting lists.

Supervising healthcare in Iceland

Last month, the Directorate of Health published a report on the state of waiting lists at the National University Hospital. The report is based on data from the beginning of the year.

As noted in the introduction, the Directorate of Health is legally obligated to supervise the healthcare system in Iceland. In its fulfillment of this role, the Directorate calls for data on elective-surgery waiting lists at the National University Hospital of Iceland twice a year.

The Directorate of Health’s guidelines state that 80% of elective surgical operations should be scheduled within 90 days, RÚV reported. According to the report, however, this aim is met in only 4 out of the 18 types of surgical procedures. (The wait is acceptable with regards to cardiac valve replacements, coronary angioplasties, and prostate operations).

The majority of individuals on waiting lists, or around 80%, have waited too long for ablations (a procedure to treat atrial fibrillation), pupilloplasty, acid-reflux surgery, bariatric surgery, and knee-replacement surgery. The wait lists for most surgical categories has lengthened or stayed the same since the publication of the previous report.

A near twelve-month wait for knee-replacement surgery

Over 1,700 people are waiting for knee or hip replacement surgery, with the average wait for knee-replacement surgery at the National University Hospital being 49 weeks. The wait for pupilloplasty is also long, with approximately half of those 2,600 individuals who underwent the operation last year having waited for seven months.

As noted in the report, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on waiting lists. Special measures must be taken to increase the number of operations once the effects of the pandemic subside.

“Previous reports have indicated that a shortage of staff and hospital beds has had a negative impact on waiting lists at the National University Hospital. There are indications that this is still the case.”

As reported by Iceland Review last week, even with a new hospital to open in Reykjavík in 2026, the healthcare system is expected to be significantly short of hospital beds in 2040, i.e. if drastic measures aren’t taken.

New Hospital Won’t Meet Bed-Demand, Report Finds

landspítali hospital

A new government report finds that the healthcare system will be significantly short of hospital beds by 2040, even with the new hospital opening on Hringbraut in Reykjavík. The Director of the new hospital hopes that the war in Ukraine won’t delay construction.

Demographic changes driving demand

On March 18, the Ministry of Health released a report on the future development of the National University Hospital of Iceland (Landspítali). The report, which was based on data from 2019, was predicated on analytical work done by the management consulting company McKinsey & Company.

Among the report’s main findings was that the need for hospital beds in Iceland is expected to rise by 80% by 2040. This need is driven mainly by demographic changes, with the average age in the country expected to increase by 9% and the total population expected to increase by 18% over the next 18 years.

Given these changes, the healthcare system would have only half of the needed hospital beds by 2040 if no significant actions were taken – even with the opening of the new hospital on Hringbraut (expected to open in 2026).

According to the report, the healthcare system can tackle the shortage by shifting long-term and primary care from Landspítali to “a more (sic) adequate healthcare setting.” The health authorities would need to create the equivalent of ca. 240 bed capacity in home-based, elderly, and rehabilitation-care facilities.

“We can’t lose any time”

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, Runólfur Pálsson, Director of the National University Hospital of Iceland, responded to the report by saying that “time was of the essence.”

“Everybody is familiar with the current facilities as far as hospital beds are concerned,” Páll observed. “Personnel shortage is also a growing concern. We should have acted sooner; the preparation time required for the construction of the new hospital was way too long.”

As noted on RÚV yesterday, the current conditions at Landspítali er still difficult, even with a decline in COVID-19 cases. There is a significant shortage of hospital beds. Every day, almost 30 people must wait in the emergency ward to be admitted into the hospital.

Furthermore, illnesses among staff, whether resulting from COVID-19 or influenza, have also made operations difficult. Many employees of the hospital have also gone on sick leave owing to work-related stress.

Construction, for the most part, “on schedule”

In an interview on Friday, Gunnar Svavarsson, Director of the New University Hospital on Hringbraut, stated that the construction of the new hospital was, for the most part, on schedule. The Russian invasion of Ukraine may cause a delay, however, as the contractors can no longer import steel from Russia.

“We hope there won’t be any delays,” Gunnar said. “As it stands, it’s looking pretty good. Some areas are behind schedule and others that are ahead of schedule.”

Ice Injuries Put Additional Stress On Hospital

Around 50 people sought care at the National University Hospital because of ice-related accidents on Sunday. RÚV reports that several people had to be admitted and some required surgery for their injuries. With resources limited, however, there was a wait for the operating room.

There was a great deal of snow and sleet in the capital over the weekend, and the fire department’s ambulance was on constant call Sunday afternoon. The situation was no less difficult at the hospital.

“There’s unfortunately been a great deal of stress on the ER today,” remarked Hjalti Már Björnsson, chief physician in the hospital’s ER. “There have been a handful of serious injuries, broken bones and head injuries. Some people have needed to be admitted and some will need to undergo surgery.”

The hospital has already been under a great deal of stress as a result of COVID-19. As of Friday, there were 43 patients in hospital due to COVID-19, eight of whom were in intensive care. In addition, some 140 hospital staff were in isolation due to COVID-19 infection.

COVID-19 in Iceland: Chief Epidemiologist Rebuffs Herd Immunity Approach

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason

No country in the world is even close to achieving herd immunity to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist stated in a public briefing this morning. “It doesn’t take a lot of imagination” to see that Iceland’s healthcare system would be “completely overwhelmed” if social restrictions were lifted and the virus had the potential to spread widely, Þórólfur Guðnason stated. After successfully containing the first wave of COVID-19 last spring, Iceland recently reimposed harsh restrictions due to a spike in case numbers. Strain on the National University Hospital is increasing, but it should be able to cope, according to the worst projections for this wave.

Strain on Hospital Increasing

Iceland has reported between 80-100 new cases per day for the last three days and stands at a total of 846 COVID-19 cases. Twenty-three individuals are in hospital and 3 of them in intensive care, all three on ventilators. At today’s briefing, Páll Matthíasson, Director of the National University Hospital, stated that the number was expected to increase, but according to current projections, the hospital should be able to manage the load.

The hospital has undergone reorganising to manage the increased strain caused by the pandemic. Patients with COVID-19 are housed at two locations in the capital area to spread the workload. The most pressing issue is to find beds in nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities in order to relocate other patients away from the hospital and free up resources.

Authorities have been hiring from a medical staff reserve force, which currently has 255 specialists registered. Medically trained professionals were urged to sign up to the list.

Solidarity is the Best Defence

At the briefing, both Þórólfur and Chief Superintendent Víðir Reynisson emphasised the importance of solidarity in containing the local pandemic. Asked if he believed current measures would be enough to get case numbers to begin curving downward, Þórólfur stated: “I believe so, if people stick together and follow the rules.” Víðir reviewed recent recommendations issued by the Office of the National Police Commissioner, including staying home as much as possible and cancelling or postponing group gatherings and events over the next two weeks. “We must stand together,” Víðir stated. “It’s the only way out of this.”

Herd Immunity Not a Viable Goal

Reporters questioned the panel on perceived disagreement between MPs regarding restrictions. Víðir and Þórólfur both underlined that although discussion occurs, when decisions are made there is full solidarity within the government and between the government and health authorities.

Asked about the possibility of global herd immunity, Þórólfur stated that all countries were far from achieving it. Even in Sweden, which is often referenced in connection with the concept due to its relaxed approach to managing the pandemic, only around 10% have developed antibodies to the virus.

In Iceland, only 1-2% of the population have antibodies at this time. At least 60% would need to contract SARS-CoV-2 for immunity to develop, and, Þórólfur stated, “it doesn’t take a lot of imagination” to understand how that would lead to the healthcare system being “completely overwhelmed,” considering the strain it is currently experiencing with under 1,000 cases.

Iceland Review live-tweets authorities’ COVID-19 briefings in English on our Twitter page, below. The next scheduled briefing is on Monday, October 12 at 11.00am UTC.

Thirty Hospital Employees with COVID In Isolation

Thirty employees of Iceland’s National University Hospital have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and are in isolation, Vísir reports. One hundred and seventy-six employees are in quarantine, including hospital CEO Páll Matthíasson and Assistant CEO Anna Sigrún Baldursdóttir.

Around sixty operations have had to be postponed due to the situation, although all urgent operations, such as cancer-related procedures, are being prioritized and going forth as scheduled.

In addition to those in quarantine, about 40 other hospital staff members were called in for COVID-19 testing on Thursday. Two outpatient wards will operate at a minimal level so as to redirect resources into the hospital’s COVID ward. This reconfiguration is expected to be in place through the weekend.