From Iceland — "Odd" To Ignore Demand Of 60,000 People

“Odd” To Ignore Demand Of 60,000 People

Published February 7, 2016

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Magnús Andersen

A petition to increase health care funding is now the second largest in Icelandic history, but the government has yet to officially respond to the demand. The Dean of Faculty at the University of Iceland’s Faculty of Medicine considers the government’s silence “odd”.

In an interview on Rás 2 this morning, Magnús Karl Magnússon told listeners he believes deCODE CEO Kári Stefánsson’s petition, Endurreisn, reflects “the strong will of the people” and their desire for increased health care funding.

“I think you need a very focussed willpower to contend that [the petition] does not express the very strong will of the Icelandic people,” he said. “To suddenly demand that we need many more signatures than have ever been collected before we listen to the Icelandic people … I find it very odd to not listen to 60,000 people who have signed this petition in a very short amount of time. I think that those who made big campaign promises before the last elections have to respond.”

The petition has thus far amassed just over 58,000 signatures in just over two weeks’ time. Only one other petition in Icelandic history has exceeded these numbers: a petition regarding the domestic airport in Reykjavík. Endurreisn’s numbers have already exceeded the total signatures gathered for petitions regarding European Union accession and paying back the Icesave debt.

The Endurreisn petition was announced last December, when deCODE CEO Kári Stefánsson wrote a column for Fréttablaðið, wherein he criticised the lack of priority given to Iceland’s health care system.

Cuts to hospital funding are currently being proposed by the parliamentary Budget Committee. Budget Committee chairperson Vigdís Hauksdóttir has accused Landspítali director Páll Matthíasson of “inflicting psychological violence” on the committee with his pleas for more funding, but Kári contends the fault lies entirely with the Budget Committee themselves.

“For this reason, I want to let the Budget Committee know that if it does not change the budget proposal in such a way that much more money is allocated to Landspítali, myself and some associates will launch a petition of 100,000 signatures that the people never again vote for the parties that comprise this government, because of the coldness and indifference that it shows the sick and injured in our society,” he wrote in part. “The collection of signatures will be an easy task. The people are distressed.”

The petition has not gone without criticism, with Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson himself questioning the data behind the petition’s contentions. The petition states that Iceland only spends about 8.7% of its GDP on health care; lower than any other Nordic country. This contention is based on figures from a 2015 OECD report on the matter, which uses figures from 2013. The Prime Minister countered with data he retrieved from the World Bank, which states Iceland spends 9.1% of its GDP on health care.

In addition, spending more on health care does not necessarily equate better health care: the United States, while lacking a universal health care system, is second only to Tuvalu in terms of percentage of GDP spent on health care: 17.1%. Countries that have achieved the 11% mark include Sierra Leone, Moldova, Leshoto and Rwanda.

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