This is how long you may have to wait for emergency care in Sweden

This is how long you may have to wait for emergency care in Sweden
Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT
Sweden's overstretched hospitals are in the spotlight again after healthcare data has revealed just how long patients have to wait to receive emergency care.

Those seeking emergency care at Sweden's hospitals have to wait for a median time of almost an hour before they are seen by a doctor, according to data shared by Sweden's national healthcare association on Tuesday.

But there were huge variations from region to region.

The longest wait in the country is at Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden's second largest city, where it can often take several hours to see a doctor.

Half of all patients at the hospital in 2016 waited for at least one hour, 47 minutes before seeing a doctor, and total median visit time was four hours and 26 minutes.

Tobias Carlson from the Sahlgrenska University Hospital told the TT newswire that waiting times had been decreasing throughout 2017. “We have worked a lot on this, and over the last spring and autumn we've seen a really positive trend, which is most pronounced among those with the longest visit times,” he said.

He explained that a combination of factors led to the lengthy waits. 

READ ALSO: Sweden's hospital bed shortage exposed in shocking stats

“One reason is what we call 'crowding'; that many patients arrive at the same time. Another is the international trend which exists in the whole of the western world, that more people are seeking emergency care,” Carlson explained. “Another reason is that the emergency departments today can do much more than they could ten years ago, things which have to be done within a certain time.”

The data comes from Sweden's National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen), which looked at the waiting times of 55 emergency departments attached to hospitals around the country in 2016. It measured visits of adults aged over 19 for 'akut' care – a sudden onset injury or illness which requires treatment as soon as possible.

In total, two million emergency hospital visits took place last year, and the board calculated two figures: the median amount of time before patients saw a doctor, and the median length of total visit.

Several of Sweden's largest hospitals had long waiting times: at Södersjukhuset in Stockholm, the University Hospital in Malmö, and Uppsala University Hospital, the median waiting time to see a doctor was over one hour and 20 minutes. 

Both Södersjukhuset and the Sahlgrenska University Hospital had over 100,000 emergency visits last year, while at the other end of the scale, at Kalix Hospital in Norrbotten, only 5,000 such visits took place. At all hospitals in Norrbotten, the northernmost county in Sweden, the median time for patients to see a doctor was below half an hour, while the figure across the region as a whole was the lowest in the country, at just under 20 minutes.

Two hospitals outside Norrbotten, Saint Göran Hospital in Stockholm and Köpings Lasarett in Västmanland, also had median waiting times of under 30 minutes.
As for the length of the total hospital visit, across the whole country the median time was just over 200 minutes, or three hours and 20 minutes, and once again this time was longer at Sweden's larger medical establishments. 
Menawhile, Gällivare Hospital in the far north of the country was the place where visits took place most quickly. Half of all patients saw a doctor within just 16 minutes, and had completed the entire visit within two hours.

Below, Sweden's different regions are ranked in order of how quickly emergency patients were seen by a doctor, from the shortest to the longest waiting times, according to the figures from Socialstyrelsen. Blekinge and Södermanland are excluded from the list due to gaps in the available data.

1. Norrbotten
2. Västerbotten
3. Västmanland
4. Kalmar
5. Värmland
6. Jönköping
7. Gotland
8. Kronoberg
9. Stockholm
10. Örebro
11. Västernorrland
12. Gävleborg
13. Dalarna
14. Östergötland
15. Skåne
16. Jämtland
17. Uppsala
18. Halland
19. Västra Götaland