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April 6, 2006 -- Today a short unsigned piece in the Iceland Review had the headline: "Nurses claim poor conditions at National Hospital threaten patient safety." The piece focuses on a recent meeting at which the nurses said that understaffing was causing them "unbearable" stress and endangering their patients. The item does not really get into the causes of or potential solutions to the poor conditions. But we commend the nurses and the Iceland Review for highlighting the problem.

The piece seems to be based on an Icelandic National Broadcasting Service (RÚV) report about a meeting of nurses at the National University Hospital (Landspitali-Haskolasjúkrahús). The piece says that 21 wards at the hospital are now seeking nurses. At the meeting, the nurses expressed concern about "the lack of nursing staff," which they said "had already caused a deterioration in the level of service at the hospital and was a threat to the safety of the patients." The nurses reportedly said (in the piece's words) that "the stress was unbearable, the hours long, and often they did not have time even to eat lunch or sit down during their coffee breaks. When off-duty, they said they were inundated by calls from the hospital asking them to come back to work." Not surprisingly, the nurses worried about "making mistakes." The piece noted that the RÚV report said the nurses are "quite upset," and that "it was obvious that many of them are fed up." Evidently the nurses "resolved to call on the ministries of healthcare, education and finance, the University of Reykjavík and the University of Akureyri and all the medical institutions in Iceland to work together in solving the problem."

This is a pretty powerful account of nurse short-staffing, at least for a short item with no individual anecdotes or discussion of research. The parts noting that the nurses are unable even to eat lunch, and that they are "inundated" with calls to come back to work, are especially distressing, though they will be familiar to nurses elsewhere. The piece might have explored some of the underlying reasons for the short-staffing, the actual effects that it can have on patient outcomes, and what might be done about it. But it should be pretty obvious that nurses working under these conditions are likely to be looking for ways to get away. To their credit, the nurses at this hospital appear to be trying to get governmental, educational, and health institutions to help resolve the problem.

We thank the Iceland Review for this helpful piece.

See the article "Nurses claim poor conditions at National Hospital threaten patient safety" in the April 6, 2006 edition of the Iceland Review.