Healthcare and Education Services Especially Impacted by Women’s Strike

women's day off iceland 2018

The Women’s Strike scheduled for tomorrow, October 24, is expected to have a significant impact on services offered throughout Iceland.

Women and non-binary persons all over the country will put down their paid and unpaid work for an entire day and thousands are expected to participate in the strike to show solidarity.

Companies and institutions have made plans to deal with the temporary labour shortage, but some services may be disrupted.

Healthcare and education affected

Fields in which women form the majority are expected to be especially affected, such as healthcare and education.

RÚV reports that 5,493 of the total 6,856 employees at Landspítali, the National University Hospital, are women. This represents 80% of the entire workforce.

Runólfur Pálsson, director of Landspítali, stated to RÚV that operations tomorrow will be scheduled in such a way as to allow as many as possible to participate in the strike.

“Of course, we will continue to provide all emergency services, urgent tasks, and necessary surgeries,” he stated. However, he stressed that the nature of healthcare work means that not all can be absent from work. He instead encouraged those who do not or cannot participate in the strike to take pictures of themselves at work so that others can express solidarity with them.

Schools throughout Iceland are also expected to be affected by the strike. According to the Icelandic Teachers’ Union, women make up 94% of preschool teachers, 82% of primary school teachers, and 62% of secondary school teachers.

Katrín goes on strike

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has also expressed her solidarity with the Women’s Strike, stating that she will be laying down her duties tomorrow, October 24.

She stated to Vísir: “I will be putting down my work to show solidarity with women. It is an incredible situation in the year 2023 that we still have gender pay gaps, that we haven’t achieved full equality, and that we are still dealing with gender-based violence.”

Stating that these issues have long been a priority for her government, she continued: “We are seeing the gender pay gap decrease, and we have also taken significant actions to address gender-based violence.”

Katrín also called for others to take part in the strike as well.

Publish a list

Organizers of the Women’s Strike will also be publishing a list of employers who obstruct women’s participation in the strike tomorrow.

Sonja Ýr Þorbergsdóttir, chairperson of BSRB, a federation of public labour unions, is one of the organizers of the Women’s Strike. She stated that they hope to ensure that as many people are able to participate as possible. To that end, they have created a document that allows workers to report workplaces discouraging participation in the strike.

Sonja stated to Vísir: “We hope to establish initial contact with these employers and encourage them to support women and women’s participation in this important fight for gender equality.” She continued:  “Many of the submissions also come with accounts of injustices within workplaces, so we thought that we might even take it a step further and publish the names of those employers who do not intend to support this struggle for equality.”

Workplaces and institutions can be reported anonymously here.

Women in Iceland first went on strike in 1975. Some 90% of Icelandic women took place in what was called Women’s Day Off and equal pay legislation was passed in parliament the following year. Other labour actions have occurred in 1985, 2005, 2010, 2016, and 2018. Tomorrow will be the seventh Women’s Strike.

Read our archival coverage of the 1985 Women’s Day Off.

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Teen Dies in Þrengslavegur Car Crash

Small boat fishermen crowd the Arnarstapi harbour each summer for the coastal fishing season

An 18-year-old motorist has died after an accident on Þrengslavegur in South Iceland yesterday morning.

Vehicle veered off the road

The South Iceland Police was notified of a car accident at 8:38 AM yesterday on Þrengslavegur, which links the Ring Road to southern coastal towns. The vehicle veered off the road and rolled multiple times. Authorities temporarily closed Þrengslavegur for on-site operations.

The driver of the vehicle, who was 18 years old, was pronounced dead upon arrival at the National University Hospital. The identity of the driver has yet to be revealed.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation by the South Iceland Police and the Accident Investigation Board.

Sixteen Middle Managers at Landspítali Hospital Dismissed

Landspítali

Sixteen middle managers employed at the National University Hospital of Iceland received letters of termination yesterday, RÚV reports. The terminations stem from the adoption of a new organisational chart intended to improve the hospital’s operations.

Improved service, efficiency

A new organisational chart will come into effect at the National University Hospital on January 1. According to director Runólfur Pálsson, the organisational chart is intended to simplify the hospital’s operations and make them more efficient.

“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. Over the past months, questions concerning the sustainability of the hospital’s operations have come to the fore.

When asked if these changes would be felt by the public, Runólfur replied: “I hope it’ll translate into a stronger hospital, that we’ll be able to improve our service: improve our emergency services, the flow of patients while also strengthening our surgical department. If we’re successful in this regard, then the public will certainly feel it.”

The hospital’s organisational chart was introduced to the Minister of Health today. The changes imply a decrease in the number of middle managers and increased responsibility among front-line managers. “Six directorial positions will be cut, but there are two positions that are bound by law, namely the directorship of nurses and medicine – but the other six will be cut alongside all of the ten managerial positions,” Runólfur remarked.

As reported by RÚV, the sixteen individuals holding the aforementioned positions received a letter of notice yesterday. Runólfur added that because the organisational chart had yet to be implemented, it remained to be seen whether it would result in increased efficiency.

“These are big changes, and we must be aware that changes to the organisational chart, in themselves, are not enough to improve our output – there are other things that must work out as well,” Runólfur stated. “But the purpose of these changes is to get a better handle on and harmonise our clinical services. In the near future, we will aim to overhaul all of the clinical organisational units in the front line and strengthen its management affording them greater responsibility.”

New Birthing Centre Aims to Innovate, Empower

A new birthing centre has opened in the capital, Vísir reports. Owned and operated by midwives Embla Ýr Guðmundsdóttir and Emma Marie Swift, the Reykjavík Birthing Centre is a reincarnation of a former birthing centre with the same name, which ceased its operations three decades ago.

Located in the new neighborhood of Hlíðarendi, the Reykjavík Birthing Centre has been open for patient consultation and facility visits for several weeks. On Wednesday, the National Medical Examiner approved the Centre to begin its operations in earnest. It employs four midwives, all of whom have different specialties, and dozens of women are planning to give birth there in the coming months. Emma Marie and Embla Ýr estimate that in the beginning, they will be able to assist ten women a month, although there’s always the possibility they will hire more midwives and expand their facilities in the future, if all goes well.

Focus on continuous care

The Centre aims to give parents more options when planning their births. And given that their services are subsidized by Icelandic national health insurance, the cost to expectant parents is comparable to what they’d find at, for instance, the National University Hospital.

Continuous care is the guiding philosophy at the Centre. “It’s about the midwife accompanying a woman and her family through the pregnancy and birthing process and then for the first ten days after the birth,” says Embla Ýr. The Centre also aims to create a homely environment and parents-to-be are encouraged to visit the facilities and beforehand, to make for a more comfortable birthing experience.

Both Embla Ýr and Emma Marie teach at the University of Iceland and advocate for this style of maternity care in their classes. “We wanted to let the work speak for itself instead of just talking about this style of service and its impact. We wanted to create a place that would give us an opportunity to work in this way,” says Embla Ýr.

Trilingual service for increased accessibility

The Centre has two birthing rooms, as well as consultation rooms and a large hall in which various classes, such as yoga and pregnancy counseling, are held. The courses are taught in three languages—Icelandic, English, and Polish—for increased accessibility.

“We wanted to bring everything together under one roof where the people who come here can be absolutely certain that everything’s being done according to the same philosophy,” says Emma. “That is, to empower, to support natural births, and to support continuous service in such an expanded way.”

Preserving a legacy, but still seeking to innovate

The original Reykjavík Maternity Centre operated on the corner of Þorfinnsgata and Eiríksgata from 1960 to 1992. Emma Marie and Embla Ýr spoke to women who had been patients at the original Centre before opening, and Emma says that most of them had fond memories of it and were eager to see its legacy preserved. And both Emma Marie and Embla Ýr are committed to being just as innovative in the services they offer to their patients today as the original founders were in their own time.

“A lot of things we take for granted today started there and that’s maybe what we’re gesturing at by keeping the name—that we want to be a similar place,” says Emma Marie.

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.

Mass Resignations at the University Hospital

landspítali hospital

Fourteen emergency-room nurses completed their final shift at the National University Hospital of Iceland (Landspítali) yesterday, RÚV reports. The departures are “a cause for worry,” Director Runólfur Pálsson stated, although he remains confident that brighter days lie ahead.

“A long time coming”

Speaking to RÚV yesterday, Soffía Steingrímsdóttir, who’s been employed as an emergency room nurse at the National University Hospital (Landspítali) for almost eight years, explained why she and 14 of her colleagues had decided to quit their jobs:

“It’s been 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 – where conditions have been unacceptable.”

According to Soffía, the 14 nurses who completed their final shifts yesterday will not be easily replaced; experience and competence only come with time. A similar number of resignations are expected to be tendered next month.

Trying to break the vicious cycle

Speaking to RÚV, Runólfur Pálsson, Director of the National University Hospital, stated 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.”

Runólfur stated that he was hopeful that resources designed for patients who have completed treatment at the hospital but cannot leave on account of disabilities would help lighten the load: “And we’ve been waiting for hospital and rehabilitation rooms, which we hope will be available in September. We have high expectations for these new facilities. They will help lighten the emergency room’s load.”

Soffía stated that the nurses were sad and disappointed that no measures were taken in response to their resignations: “I certainly hope that I haven’t completed my last shift at the emergency room, that I’ll return when an acceptable work environment has been created.”

Common for Children to be Admitted to Hospital with Nicotine Poisoning

There are several cases a week of children being admitted to the hospital with nicotine poisoning after ingesting nicotine pouches, RÚV reports. Ragnar Grímur Bjarnason, chief physician at the Children’s Hospital, says most poisonings occur at home and many parents don’t realise that nicotine is a strong toxic chemical that can have much more serious consequences for children than adults.

Snus, a moist tobacco powder, is illegal in Iceland, but nicotine pouches are very similar. These are small, hand-or premade sachets filled with loose tobacco powder and then held between the upper lip and the gum for extended nicotine release. Although cigarette smoking has declined in Iceland, nicotine pouches have seen an increased popularity in recent years, particularly among young people. In 2021, nearly a third of Icelanders aged 18-34 were using nicotine pouches on a daily or nearly daily basis.

See Also: Health Minister Presents Bill to Regulate Nicotine Pouch Sales

Nicotine poisonings among children are not a new phenomenon, says Ragnar Grímur. “Naturally, when everyone was vaping, the oils were being left out all over the place. They smelled good and were pretty colours. So at that time, we were getting a lot of those poisonings. They’re also flavoured and taste much better than cigarettes in an ashtray, which was the main cause of [nicotine] poisoning a few decades ago.”

Nicotine poisoning is very serious for children and can necessitate intensive care or even be life-threatening.

“Most people who have tried nicotine know what the most common reactions are,” says Ragnar Grímur. “There’s nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and discomfort. But in children, it can also have very serious effects on the central nervous system.”

COVID-19 in Iceland: Fewer Patients in Hospital, None in Intensive Care

There are no COVID-19 patients in intensive care at Iceland’s National University Hospital, for the first time since October of last year. There are currently 31 patients with COVID-19 at the hospital, according to a notice from the institution. Their number reached a pandemic record on March 8, but has been gradually decreasing since mid-March.

The hospital reported one death of a patient with COVID-19 yesterday, in her 60s. The current average age of inpatients with COVID-19 is 73 years. While conditions at the hospital have improved, the hospital remains in “emergency phase” due to strain.

Read More: What’s the status of COVID-19 in Iceland?

Since June 30, 2021, 81 patients with COVID-19 have been treated in intensive care, and 45 of them required a ventilator for at least some of that time. As of April 1, 101 people had died in Iceland due to COVID-19, since the beginning of the pandemic.

Thousands Diagnosed in Icelandic Blood Cancer Study

doctor nurse hospital health

More than 3,600 people have been diagnosed with pre-stage myeloma in an Icelandic study involving blood screening, Vísir reports. Nearly 60 entered drug treatment as a result, which has been effective. The European Research Council has decided to support the research program with a grant of €2 million [ISK 285 million; $2.2 million], enabling the study to continue.

Myeloma is an incurable type of blood cancer that develops from bone marrow cells. Patients’ outlook is generally better when it is diagnosed early. In the autumn of 2016, a national campaign was launched in Iceland to screen for the disease; a collaboration between the University of Iceland, the National University Hospital, and the Icelandic Cancer Society. The aim of the study is to investigate the effects of screening for pre-stage myeloma, to investigate the causes and consequences of the disease, and to improve the lives of those diagnosed with myeloma and search for a possible cure.

More than 75,000 samples have been screened in the study, diagnosing more than 3,600 people with pre-stage myeloma, and almost 300 with advanced myeloma. Those with advanced myeloma have been invited to participate in drug trials with the aim of preventing the progression of the disease.

Effective drug treatment of precursors

Sigurður Yngvi Kristinsson, professor of blood diseases at the University of Iceland’s School of Medicine and a specialist at the National University Hospital, is the recipient of the European Research Council grant. “This is a great recognition for me and the whole research team and the good work that we have been doing lately, and, of course, it enables us to continue researching myeloma and its precursors,” he stated.

“By searching carefully, we find people who are on the verge of developing myeloma,” Sigurður Yngvi explained. “They have what is called smouldering myeloma and are at great risk of that developing into myeloma. And we have been able to intervene before they get myeloma and give them drug treatment, and have nearly 60 people in drug treatment now and some have completed two years of drug treatment with great success, and that is perhaps the biggest milestone.”

Record Number of COVID-19 Hospitalizations

landspítali hospital

Iceland hit a new pandemic milestone, with 75 patients with COVID-19 currently being treated at the National University Hospital in Reykjavík — a pandemic record, surpassing the November 2020 high of 66 people with COVID-19 in hospital.

Five patients are currently in intensive care, and one of them is on a ventilator.

As reported Monday, there are currently patients with COVID-19 in 15 separate wards of the National University Hospital in Reykjavík. The average age of those admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 is 67.

Read More: What’s the Status of COVID-19 in Iceland?

Two men in their 70s died in the intensive care unit Monday, Visir.is reports. Their deaths follow that of a woman in her 50s, who passed away from COVID-19 complications Sunday. The total number of COVID-19 casualties in Iceland now stands at 73.

A total of 3,316 new coronavirus infections were diagnosed in Iceland on Monday, according to COVID.is. The majority of diagnoses (3,188) were made via rapid tests, with 44% of the 7,497 total swabs taken coming back positive.