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Swedish opposition critical of government efforts to limit hospital layoffs [Advocacy Lab Content]

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In a bid to stem massive layoffs in Sweden’s emergency hospitals, the Swedish government wants to allocate an extra €530 million to the health sector. But the opposition and Swedens regions say it’s not enough.

In recent weeks more Swedish regions have announced large public sector layoffs. In its response, Sweden’s centre-right government told the press on 4 March that it would allocate an extra €530 million to healthcare in its spring budget bill, which will be launched in the middle of April.

“In recent budgets, we have allocated substantial resources to support Swedish welfare. Since we presented the last budget, the economic forecasts have worsened, especially for the regions. The resources we are now announcing will be directed entirely to the regions’ health care,”  said Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, Moderate Party, at a press briefing.

The proposed additional state aid will, however, represent only a quarter of the €2 billion that the regions have requested to boost the health sector so that it can cover current budget deficits.

Saving healthcare jobs

After the press conference, the Left, the Greens, the Centre party, and the Social Democrats, all in opposition in the Swedish parliament Riksdagen, told the media that an extra €530 million would be far from enough to save health workers’ jobs.

“That the Sweden Democrats and the government, following criticism regarding cuts to the health care service, add a couple of billions (SKR) does not impress, since I am convinced that in reality there will be continued cutbacks,” Mikael Damberg, the financial spokesperson for the Social Democrats commented on Swedish Radio.

About 6,000 administrators and health workers risk losing their jobs, according to the announced savings.

“The resource addition is welcomed, but the regions will still have to continue to take action to meet the high inflation and reduce costs,” Anders Henriksson, president of the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, commented in a press release.

Östergötland, one of the Swedish crisis-hit regions, recently notified  900 employees of dismissal.

“We had to resort to this measure due to the difficult financial situation we have to deal with, with a deficit of €150 million from last year, which we haven’t really been able to contain,” Marie Morell, Moderate Party, and chair of the regional political board in Östergötland, told Euractiv.

She says that the region has tried to avoid layoffs by freezing recruitment, stopping the use of agency nurses and reviewing purchasing and procurement costs, but those savings were not enough.

COVID hangover

A simple explanation for their funding problems, says Marie Morell, is that the region received a lot of state funding during the pandemic and hired 1,000 extra health workers to deal with the situation.

The cost of this increase in staff became too high as the extra state funding allocated to the regions during the pandemic has been phased out.

“Another problem is that, despite the increase in staff, we haven’t been able to improve people’s access to health care or reduce waiting times, which is bad,“ Morell said.

Now, all categories of staff – except for doctors and nurses in Östergötland – risk being affected by the redundancies, she said. Of the €530 million, the region will get an extra €23 million; but that sum will not save staff, she remarked.

At the press conference, the Swedish government also proposed new state functions to help regions monitor their healthcare production to become more efficient.

The €530 million announcement follows Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson’s pledge a month ago that the government would ensure that no health worker would lose their job.

Kristersson said on Sweden’s commercial broadcaster TV 4’s in early February: “It is the government, and its collaborating parties that will present the budget, which will also ensure that we don’t lay off people in the Swedish health service.”

[By Monica Kleja, edited by Vasiliki Angouridi, Brian Maguire | Euractiv’s Advocacy Lab]

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