Sweden faces another summer of hospital bed shortages: here are the worst-hit regions

Sweden is struggling to recruit enough nurses for the summer period, with hospital staff numbers set to be strained.

Sweden faces another summer of hospital bed shortages: here are the worst-hit regions
New stats show Sweden's summer hospital bed shortage. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

Sweden's stretched healthcare has been a high-profile subject in recent years following stories about the scarcity of beds at hospitals and nurses raising concern about an increasingly tough workload.

The problem is often at its worst during the summer period, when full-time workers in Sweden, including hospital staff, are guaranteed four consecutive months off during June, July or August. But personnel numbers are not adequate enough to cover them, without enough temporary workers for the period.

Almost one in five hospital beds is expected to be closed this summer, writes Dagens Medicin.


Healthcare in Sweden is governed on a regional level, and 18 of the country's 21 regions responded to the magazine's survey asking them how many hospital beds were to be available this summer.

The survey found around 14,200 beds would remain open, 3,000 fewer than in April and a slight decrease on the summer of 2018.

The Jönköping, Örebro, Östergötland and Västernorrland regions are among the worst affected, with more than one in four hospital beds to be closed this summer. Region Gotland has the best forecast, with only a small number of beds fewer than in April, according to Dagens Medicin's report.


Several regions are offering permanent staff a salary boost if they choose to spend their summer months working. But Vårdförbundet, the Swedish Association of Health Professionals which represents nurses, midwives, biomedical scientists and radiographers, criticized the move.

“Our members need their holidays and extra rest, because they have already worked an incredible amount of overtime,” the union's chairperson Sineva Ribeiro told Dagens Medicin.

Sweden's hospital beds shortage has been among the worst in Europe in recent years, according to official statistics. In 2015 it had 2.4 available beds per 1,000 people, according to the OECD, fewer than Ireland and the UK at 2.6 per 1,000.

But despite that and long waiting times, Sweden's overall standard of healthcare is generally considered high. It made the top-five best nations in the Healthcare Access and Quality Index (HAQ), which was published in the UK journal The Lancet in 2017 and studied the quality of healthcare in 195 countries by measuring mortality rates from causes that should not be fatal in the presence of effective medical care.

The Local has covered Sweden's healthcare in several articles, including reports of women in labour being turned away from hospitals due to a shortage of space, the controversial closure of the maternity ward in Sollefteå, northern Sweden, and cases of some mothers being flown to Åbo in Finland to give birth.

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