Gullan, 71, ‘too old’ for treatment: clinic

71-year-old Gullan Holmgren from Piteå, in northern Sweden, is 'too old' for pain rehab, according to the pain rehabilitation unit at the local hospital that turned her away.

“I might be over 70, but that doesn’t mean I am dead yet,” said an outraged Holmgren to The Local.

Holmgren, who has had chronic pain after an unsuccessful hip operation six years ago, sought help through her primary care provider, the local clinic in Piteå where she lives.

After trying all sorts of pain relief to no avail, her doctor referred her to the pain rehabilitation unit at Sunderby Hospital.

Holmgren then waited to be called for an appointment but instead received a letter from her doctor telling her she had been turned down for treatment at the rehabilitation unit. The reason – she was too old.

The rehabilitation unit at Sunderby Hospital is specialised to help chronic pain sufferers overcome their disabilities.

The staff work in specialised teams and the treatment is aimed at patients aged between 18 and 65 – people of a “professional” age.

“It makes me feel like if I am too old to work then I am not allowed help to cope with my pain,” Holmgren said.

Holmgren’s daughter, 37-year-old Linda, broke her leg earlier in the year and has since experienced the same chronic pain as her mother.

But Linda received treatment within a few weeks.

“Why can’t my mother get the same help? IS life really meant to be over after 65? I only wish I could give my mother my treatment instead,” Linda Holmgren told daily Aftonbladet.

However, at the hospital they say that it isn’t that uncommon for specialised units to have age restrictions.

The problem is rather that the county’s geriatric care units, which is where Holmgren should be referred to due to her age, don’t have the resources in place to deal with these cases.

“But it has been decided at the hospital that we will train a team to be able to treat older patients and so we are going to be able to provide help for them in the future,” Karin Hellsten, senior clinic administrator for the pain rehabilitation unit, told The Local.

The decision has been made but how long the recruitment and training period will take, Hellsten couldn’t say. In the mean time the local clinics will have to refer elderly patients with chronic pain to Umeå, were there is specialist help to get even for older patients.

But according to Gullan Holmgren, the trip of 200 kilometres from Piteå to Umeå would be too much for her on a regular basis. She is pleased that the hospital will be able to provide help for chronic pain sufferers in the future.

“But it might take some time before they have it up and running, and what do people like myself do in the mean time?,” she said to The Local.

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How Sweden plans to digitalize healthcare

The Swedish government is investing in digitalization of its 1177 Healthcare Guide with the aim of improving accessibility.

How Sweden plans to digitalize healthcare
Today it's possible to find advice about health problems and treatment on the 1177 website. Photo: Claudio Bresciani / TT

The government on Thursday announced the decision to grant 33.5 million kronor to the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKL) to develop the 1177 Healthcare Guide (Vårdguiden), a website where people can find out information about different healthcare issues. 

“We hope that this will benefit all patients in the country,” Minister for Health and Social Affairs Lena Hallengren told reporters at a press conference.

She said that Swedish healthcare needed to become more accessible and that more digital options will be introduced to the 1177 Healthcare Guide, including for example the possibility to communicate via video calls.

Another aspect of the plan is the introduction of digital booking, and the possibility for patients to keep track of their referrals online.

Healthcare in Sweden is organized at a regional level and in some areas it is already possible to carry out an online doctor's visit, either via a chat function or a video call.

But the investment would be used to “weave together different functions”, the spokesperson for SKL's healthcare department said. 

It will remain possible to contact 1177 by phone as well, something which would be particularly important for groups which are less likely to turn to digital solutions, Hallengren said.

READ ALSO: What to do if you need a sick day in Sweden


healthcare – (en) sjukvård

accessible – tillgänglig

online doctor's visit – (ett) nätläkarbesök

patient – (en) patient

doctor – (en) läkare

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