Stockholm braces for healthcare cuts and layoffs to plug corona deficit

Stockholm health authorities are warning that savings will have to be made in the wake of the corona pandemic, as one of the region's major hospitals prepares to lay off hundreds of staff.

Stockholm braces for healthcare cuts and layoffs to plug corona deficit
Job cuts are expected at Karolinska University Hospital. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

“There will come a period, mainly next year, when the economic impact of this pandemic on society will start to make itself known,” Stockholm healthcare director Björn Eriksson told The Local earlier this year. “Tax revenue will decrease as unemployment increases and growth slows down. That means we are going to have to tighten our belts significantly or make stricter priorities in the future, because things are looking pretty tough right now.”

Even before the coronavirus pandemic broke out, Stockholm regional authorities last year decided to make savings, and further savings are expected as the region's budget negotiations for 2021 get under way. The pandemic has put a large dent in the region's finances, with for example falling revenue from the public transport sector due to people following recommendations to work from home and avoid buses, trains and metro.

“It's a lot of money. It's a matter of billions in lost revenue for the entire region, but we don't know the outcome for healthcare yet,” Eriksson told the TT news agency on Wednesday. “I really hope we won't have to give notice to healthcare staff. We are currently making cuts in the area of administration and there is a risk that more such savings will come, you start in administration and ultimately care staff. We always want to protect them.”

Stockholm healthcare director Björn Eriksson. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

Karolinska University Hospital last year announced plans to lay off hundreds of doctors and nurses to plug a deficit gap of more than a billion kronor, but temporarily put them on hold during the worst of the coronavirus crisis in spring. Negotiations with labour unions are now set to resume, hospital chiefs recently announced.

It is up to each hospital to decide how to implement any savings, so Eriksson declined to comment on the specific situation at Karolinska. “You use your resources in a way you think provides the best care and is the most efficient for the hospital. It is a very tough challenge,” he told TT.

Stockholm normally has around 90 available intensive care beds in the region, but quadrupled that figure during the coronavirus crisis.

“I obviously think that everyone who has worked really hard during the pandemic has really done an amazing job. They are heroes. I am incredibly grateful of what they have done and I really hope that they feel appreciated by us as their employers,” said Eriksson.

Asked by TT what he would tell doctors and nurses now at risk of losing their jobs, he said:

“If I look at Stockholm healthcare, we are going to need all the staff we have. I hope in the long term that more will work in advanced healthcare in the home and other forms of care where their skills are needed.”

The Swedish capital has been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus, with more than 2,300 deaths, although the situation has vastly improved in the Stockholm region since spring and early summer. Eriksson said he thought the virus had spread fast in Stockholm at an early stage of the outbreak, before anyone knew it was here.

“There was speculation that it happened during the February break [when many Swedes travelled to for example ski resorts in the Alps] but my theory is that the infection was already established here and in more countries before it was discovered,” he said, but added that he was not able to say when he thought the spread started.

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Covid deaths in Sweden ‘set to rise in coming weeks’

The Public Health Agency of Sweden has warned that the number of weekly Covid deaths is set to rise, after the number of people testing positive for the virus rose for the sixth week running.

Covid deaths in Sweden 'set to rise in coming weeks'

According to the agency, an average of 27 people have died with or from the virus a week over the past three weeks. 

“According to our analyses, the number who died in week 27 (July 4th-July 11th), is more than died in week 26 and we expect this to continue to grow,” the agency wrote in a report issued on Thursday. 

In the week ending July 17th (week 28), 4,700 new cases of Covid-19 were registered, a 22 percent rise on the previous week. 

“We are seeing rising infection levels of Covid-19 which means that there will be more people admitted to hospital, and even more who die with Covid-19,”  said Anneli Carlander, a unit chief at the agency. “The levels we are seeing now are higher than they were last summer, but we haven’t reached the same level we saw last winter when omicron was spreading for the first time.” 

While 27 deaths a week with for from Covid-19 is a rise on the low levels seen this spring, it is well below the peak death rate Sweden saw in April 2020, when more than 100 people were dying a day. 

The number of Covid deaths recorded each week this summer. Source. Public Health Agency of Sweden
A graph of Covid deaths per day since the start of the pandemic shows that the current death rate, while alarming, remains low. Photo: Public Health Agency of Sweden

Carlander said that cases were rising among those in sheltered accommodation for the elderly, and also elderly people given support in their own homes, groups which are recommended to get tested for the virus if they display symptoms. The infection rate among those given support in their homes has risen 40 percent on last week. 

This week there were also 12 new patients admitted to intensive care units with Covid-19 in Sweden’s hospitals.  

The increase has come due to the new BA.5 variant of omicron, which is better able to infect people who have been vaccinated or already fallen ill with Covid-19. Vaccination or a past infection does, however, give protection against serious illness and death.