Confessions of a former scaremonger
Family of Swans

A Close Encounter (and the tyranny of arbitrary health care)

A close friend just drove into a mountain wall. The car was totally wrecked while she miraculously survived with only a small cut in her arm and the shock of a near death experience.

For now, this strong independent woman, at a time when she is weaker and more dependent than she would ever have cared to be, is left in the care, or should I say at the mercy, of the ARBITRARY Norwegian public health service. An ARBITRARY health service where life and death is a matter of which doctor is on guard, which staff on duty and which hospital department you are fortunate or unfortunate enough to be assigned to.

As a trained journalist I don't make such claims lightly. I've seen enough evidence to know that this is indeed the unfortunate state of public Norwegian health care: I've heard enough hospital staff talk about it with despair, frustration and even a degree of resigned cynicism - all of them reluctant to go on the record for fear of losing their jobs. I also know that upright Norwegian health professionals regularly get into trouble for raising concern over the quality and consistency of the system they work in.

Of course, bringing in my profession begs the question, am I biased? Yes, I am VERY biased. Aged 17 I was admitted to a Norwegian hospital after a serious car accident which nearly killed me and suffered a catalogue of maltreatments and condenscending behaviour no one should have to suffer in a situation where they are dependent on professional help.

Not being person prone to suffer injustice lightly, I voiced my experiences in the local media with the result that I was inundated with calls from people who had suffered similar experiences, including a couple who claimed to have lost their kid to hospital maltreatment. In the 12 years since I have heard and seen similar stories again and again and will readily admit that I fear for any friend or relative put into Norwegian hospitals with serious ailments. 12 years on Norwegian public health care is still ruled by the tyranny of arbitrariness, or suffering from "insufficient quality assurance" as the political jargon goes.

So my friend now hospitalised after her car crash risks experiencing the same lack of manners; wards that are understaffed and overworked and health professionals making fundamental misjudgements for lack of time, proper routines or sheer negligence and incompetence as I did 12 years ago: making you feel as the imbecile, disempowered charge of a hospital for the retarded in the former Soviet Union. Or she might meet some really nice people who try to do their best despite the system they are confined to work in. The problem is that either outcome is likely.

Am I the only person who thinks this is unacceptable? Well I hope not. I'm pretty sure I'm not. Then why, 12 years on is this still the case? Isn't anything better possible? I actually know that it is. I had this amazing experience when I was forced to operate my knees at Hampstead Royal Free in London two years back. Now I'm not saying that NHS is beyond reproach, it might be just as arbitrary a system as the Norwegian one, but still: even though it was not as modern as many Norwegian hospitals, and they were clearly understaffed: all the staff introduced themselves and explained how they were going to treat me, and why, and made me feel safe, well-informed and well taken care of . Such small things, but so important when they have your life and health in their hands. After all, your life is the most valuable thing you have.


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