Although the number of doctors and nurses in Iceland has been reported higher than OECD average for many consecutive years (3.9/1000 population for practicing doctors and 14.5/1000 population for practising nurses in 2017), shortages of nurses in particular has remained. To address the risk of health care staff shortages several measures were taken. The Medical Director of Health introduced a health-care services’ reserve staff call up plan. The Health-care service responded requesting assistance from health-care workers, doctors, nurses and nursing auxiliaries, to form a healthcare services reserve. Professionals have been called to temporarily join the health-care service on short notice, full-time, part-time or on an hourly basis. The call applies to retired health care workers and medical and nursing students. When ban on mass gathering was implemented (see section 1.2) a decision was made not to close primary and elementary schools for children and young people under 16 years. This decision was based on several considerations. First, children who test positive tend to develop mild or even no symptoms and since the virus spreads easily with the symptoms children are less likely to spread the virus to other people, especially if guidelines regarding maximum size of classes, minimum mixing up of groups and advice on hygiene and hand-washing are properly followed. Second, in those times of emergency is was considered important to maintain as much as possible daily routines for children in the youngest age groups. And finally a special attention had to be paid to health care workers and other frontline workers with regard to their need for child care. Health care workers and workers taking care of vulnerable people, elderly and those with underlying conditions which make them particularly at risk, were asked to avoid social gathering so as to minimized the risk of becoming affected.
All elective surgeries, provided publicly and privately, were suspended from March 23rd to May 31st 2020, in order to increase the capacity of care for COVID-19 patients and render other necessary health-care services (see section 2.1.). This suspension of elective surgery freed up both nurses and physicians, who were encouraged to join the health care services´ reserve teams and trained to take care of COVID-19 patients.
In co-operation with the Icelandic Red Cross (IRC), the capacity of services provided through telephone helplines was strengthened by the ability to refer to the existing IRC helplines, developed especially to provide help and services to individuals who were experiencing anxiety and fear related to the COVID-19 outbreak. An additional special helpline outside working hours was provided and telephone services at primary care centres during working hours were increased. Non-severely ill COVID-19 patients were directed to communicate via net chat on “My Pages” at (Heilsuvera.is).
OECD 2019. Health at a glance. https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/social-issues-migration-health/health-at-a-glance_19991312
State of Health in the EU- Iceland: Country Health Profile 2019. https://ec.europa.eu/health/sites/health/files/state/docs/2019_chp_is_english.pdf
DoH. Status Report, DCPEM and CE. March 11th 2020 https://www.landlaeknir.is/servlet/file/store93/item39684/COVID19_StatusReport__11032020.pdf
The Government of Iceland, Ministry of Health, announcement March 11th 2020, https://www.stjornarradid.is/efst-a-baugi/frettir/stok-frett/2020/03/11/Bakvardasveit-heilbrigdisthjonustunnar-oskad-eftir-heilbrigdisstarfsfolki-a-utkallslista/
DoH. Status Report, DCPEM and CE. March 7th 2020 https://www.landlaeknir.is/servlet/file/store93/item39662/COVID19_Stoduskyrsla_07032020.pdf
DoH. Status Report, DCPEM and CE. March 24th 2020 https://www.landlaeknir.is/servlet/file/store93/item40626/COVID19_Stoduskyrsla_24032020.pdf
DoH. Press release March 22nd an order to cease elective surgeries https://www.landlaeknir.is/um-embaettid/frettir/frett/item40390/Frestun-valkvaedra-skurdadgerda-vegna-Covid-19
DoH. Status Report, DCPEM and CE. March 3rd 2020 https://www.landlaeknir.is/servlet/file/store93/item39459/COVID19_Stoduskyrsla_03032020.pdf
DoH Status Report, March 24th 2020 https://www.landlaeknir.is/servlet/file/store93/item40626/COVID19_Stoduskyrsla_24032020.pdf