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Danish hospitals lose nurses after summer 2021 strikes

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Ritzau/The Local - [email protected]
Danish hospitals lose nurses after summer 2021 strikes
Nurses stage a walk-out at Aalborg University Hospital in September 2021, following a series of union-sanctioned strikes earlier that summer. Photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

The number of nurses at Danish hospitals has fallen following strikes last year, putting the brakes on a government plan to increase the number of nurses working in the country.

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A fall of 875 in the total number of full time nurses at public hospitals was registered between the second quarter of 2021, when 36,385 were recorded, and Q4 of last year, when the number had dropped to 35,510.

The figures were published by the Danish Health Data Authority (Sundhedsdatastyrelsen).

Health Minister Magnus Heunicke recognised a link between the falloff in nurse numbers and strikes last summer during which nurses protested over pay and working conditions. A collective bargaining deal rejected by the nurses’ trade union DSR was eventually enforced by government intervention.

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“Hospitals have been extraordinarily challenged by staffing problems since the nursing conflict last summer and I therefore see this decline as unavoidable in the short term,” Heunicke said.

A lower number of nurses working at hospitals does not necessary mean that nurses have switched profession.

The nurses in question may have moved to other parts of the healthcare sector such as municipal services, GP surgeries or temp agencies.

A general shortage of nurses resulted in the government agreeing with regional health authorities in January 2020 to hire an additional 1,000 nurses by the end of 2021.

That target was achieved as early as Q2 in 2021 but the subsequent strike and falloff in the number of nurses in the public health system means that the country is once again several hundred nurses short of the target.

In the fourth quarter of 2021, Denmark had just 364 more nurses compared to 2019, the year relevant for the deal to increase staffing by 1,000.

“My aim is that we, together with regional health authorities, get back up to the 1,000 extra nurses again as soon as possible, because we need them in all parts of our health service,” Heunicke said.

The minister said that higher intake numbers on nursing degree programmes was among measures that been taken to boost numbers.

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