A short introduction to health care in Iceland
Icelanders have long been proud of their health care system and believed it to be among the best in the world. For a long time Icelanders enjoyed (along with Japan) the highest life expectancy in the world.
All Icelandic citizens are covered by the national health insurance scheme, the system is mostly financed by taxes although a small fraction is payed with service fees (15%).
In recent years, the system has taken some battering,
- With foreign recruiters encouraging doctors and health professionals to seek employment abroad (especially in Norway),
- More sharing of fees by patients,
- And lack of new equipment,
being among the issues that constantly get news coverage. The system is entirely nationalized, and regularly a discussion comes up on whether the system should be partly privatized or not, however popular opinion has been against this and as of now no progress has been made into that direction.
The highest institution of health care in Iceland is the Ministry of Welfare which is responsible for the administration and policy making of social affairs, health and social security. This ministry was formerly divided into ministry of health on one hand and the ministry of social issues on the other. In 2011 in an effort to make the government more efficient they were united. The minister of welfare, who is appointed by parliament is the head of this ministry.
Over a dozen agencies are a part of the ministry the major ones are The Icelandic Medicine Pricing and Reimbursement Committee which is responsible to apply for a maximum wholesale price in order to sell pharmaceuticals in Iceland. The National Bioethics Committee which evaluated scientific research projects in the biomedical field. The Icelandic Health Insurance which role is self explanatory and the Directorate of health which administrates public health, clinical quality etc.
Medical education is conducted at a few educational institutes in Iceland. The School of Health Sciences at the University of Iceland is the only institute of higher education which teaches Medicine. There Medicine Nursing, Odontology, Pharmaceutical Sciences and Psychology can be studied. In addition to this students can opt to study to be paramedics at some collages and high schools. Acquiring a license to the a general practitioner takes 6 years, studying to be a specialist generally takes and additional 6 years, however as Iceland is a small country what is on offer is limited, as a result most specialists opt to finish their studies abroad.
Hospitals and and clinics
The Icelandic healthcare system is divided into four different categories of health care clinics, health institutions such as mental health faculties and institutions with long term in-patients, university hospitals and teaching hospitals. Major hospitals include the Landspitali University Hospital in Reykjavik and the Akureyri Hospital.
Cancer in Iceland
About 1400 people (out of a population of 330,000) are diagnosed with cancer annually. The numbers appear to be on the rise, the main reason being that mean age in Iceland is increasing. Breast cancer is quite common in Iceland, and treatments have been improving. Mortality rate from cancer has furthermore been declining. As Iceland is small there are no special cancer treatment centers there, cancer patients are treated at regular hospitals instead. There is however a cancer society which aims to be at the forefront in the fight against cancer.
Main trends in Icelandic health care. Radiotherapy is used to treat most cancers, breast cancer and lung cancer being very common, account for quite a lot of utilization of the linear accelerators. There is a Dept of Radiation Oncology at New Landspitali Hospital. Smoking was banned in public places in Iceland, but prior to that, 1 in 4 people were smokers.
Iceland is a developed country and as such its major health issues are similar to countries in other parts of the Western World. Mental health problems and obesity especially seem to be the topics most frequently covered by the media, another common issue is the status of the health care system itself which seems to be in a decline. Funding has subtracted in the past few years, salaries are considered low and as such hospitals and the heathcare system are often undermanned. Many doctors and nurses opt to move abroad with Norway being by far the most popular destination. This is likely to cause some constraints on the healthcare system in the coming years.