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.”