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Denmark: Government Plans Health Care Reforms

(May 13, 2013) According to a May 2, 2013, press release from <?Denmark's Minister of Health and Prevention, Astrid Krag, the government is planning an overhaul of the country's health care system. (Press Release, Regeringen Udstikker Ny Kurs På Sundhedsområdet [Government Sets a New Course for the Health Section] (May 2, 2013), Ministry of Health and Prevention website.)

The proposals seek to reorganize aspects of the way health services are provided, with the goal of providing better care, resulting in better health, for the poorest citizens. The estimated cost of the program is 600 million Danish kroner (about US$105.6 million). The plan has been controversial with some doctors, as it would change some of the working conditions for general practitioners, including having them hold longer office hours. The government argues, however, that modernization of general practice is long overdue. One part of the plan is to have doctors working in larger clinics, which is expected to make the health service more efficient and better suited to patient needs. (Peter Stanners, Proposed Health Reform Could Lead to New Labour Conflict, THE COPENHAGEN POST (May 2, 2013).)

General practitioners are at present involved in collective bargaining for a new work agreement. The government says that because these doctors are paid by the public, the public sector should have some input into their role and how they provide medical services. For their part, the union has said that many of the proposed changes are good, but Henrik Dibbern, the chair of the union representing general practice doctors, noted:

If we are to lengthen our opening hours, then we need resources to hire extra staff. … The problem is that if a doctor has to treat someone on Saturday morning, it could affect the treatment of the patient with a chronic illness on Tuesday. The problem is that there is a shortage of doctors. We can’t just extend our opening hours if there aren’t enough doctors on call. (Id.)

Additional provisions in the plan restructure health care to use mobile technology to improve integration of the services provided. Krag stated that it was important “to make sure that patients are provided the best possible treatment. … That’s why the health service needs to function more like a single unit in which councils, doctors and hospitals work closely together to treat individual patients.” (Id.) The hope is that visiting nurses can send photos and patient information to specialists for evaluation and treatment recommendations. Other aspects of the proposal would provide additional funds for cancer patient rehabilitation, smoking cessation, and alcohol treatment programs. (Id.)