Government-appointed, cure-all health commissions no substitute for having the right personnel, warns health expect

The current lack of specially trained intensive care, anesthesia and surgery nurses is not just a problem in Denmark, but across the western world, he warned

Long waiting times, particularly for cancer patients, huge increases in hospital admissions of both the elderly and people with chronic diseases, and staff shortages exacerbated by the continued belief that nurses are undervalued and underpaid – these are the eternal shortfalls of the Danish healthcare system.

And no amount of fancy dressing, or funding pledges, or commissions of government-appointed experts, like the one announced yesterday, is going to cure these problems if enough of the right personnel cannot be found, a distinguished academic and specialist in the field has told TV2.

Commissions and governments change, warned health economist Professor Kjeld Møller Pedersen following the latest state-driven initiative to apply change, but the age-old issues endure, not just in Denmark but in many countries across the western world.

A familiar tune and setting
Yesterday PM Mette Frederiksen was joined by coalition partner Lars Løkke Rasmussen, the foreign minister and leader of Moderaterne, and Sophie Løhde, the health minister, in the kind of press conference theatre environment we got all too used to seeing during the pandemic.

“We want a world-class healthcare system,” said the PM, echoing the words of many of her predecessors.

The task ahead: fixing the Danish health system, and central to the panacea this time around is the appointment of a nine-individual commission, including representatives of Kræftens Bekæmpelse, Vive and even Maersk, to submit a series of advisory recommendations within the next 12 months, which the government will then act upon.

Shortage of intensive care, anesthesia and surgery nurses
But Pedersen is far from convinced that the commission will succeed where others failed – most notably in 1996 (Hospital Commission), 2008 (Erik Juhl Committee) and 2016 (very much driven by Løkke Rasmussen).

“The fact that we are setting up another commission is an expression of how we are looking for a better model for the health sector than the one we have,” he said. 

“The challenge is not money, it’s a lack of hands. The money is there, but can you find the hands? A big question is whether we can get more specially-trained nurses – for example, intensive care, anesthesia and surgery nurses, a shortage that the World Health Organization recently described as a ticking time bomb under the healthcare systems of many countries.”

293 cancer failings in Aarhus
According to TV2’s political correspondent and analyst Noa Redington, recent reports regarding cancer patients have piled untold pressure on the government to take action.

The case of Aarhus University Hospital, where 293 cancer patients in the Central Jutland Region have waited “too long to be operated on”, is one of several open sores the government is anxious to address. 

Similar cases are thought likely in all five regions, Jes Søgaard, a professor of health economics at the University of Southern Denmark, told DR, although there are question marks regarding the reporting of the failings.

“I believe that the regions must be obliged to report all time overruns, because it is an important part of the monitoring of this area,” said Søgaard.

Demand is only going to increase
According to Redington, another huge area of concern is the increasingly elderly population. 

“There are many big challenges in the coming years: both in relation to the recruitment of staff and in relation to the fact that we are getting much older,” he said.

“I spoke to a hospital director the other day and told him, somewhat jokingly, that it might be worth hurrying to get sick.”