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Open Access Research article

The politics of local hospital reform: a case study of hospital reorganization following the 2002 Norwegian hospital reform

Trond Tjerbo

Author Affiliations

Institute of Health Management and Health Economics, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Affairs, Oslo, Norway

BMC Health Services Research 2009, 9:212  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-9-212

Published: 20 November 2009

Abstract

Background

The Norwegian hospital reform of 2002 was an attempt to make restructuring of hospitals easier by removing politicians from the decision-making processes. To facilitate changes seen as necessary but politically difficult, the central state took over ownership of the hospitals and stripped the county politicians of what had been their main responsibility for decades. This meant that decisions regarding hospital structure and organization were now being taken by professional administrators and not by politically elected representatives. The question raised here is whether this has had any effect on the speed of restructuring of the hospital sector.

Method

The empirical part is a case study of the restructuring process in Innlandet Hospital Trust (IHT), which was one of the largest enterprise established after the hospital reform and where the vision for restructuring was clearly set. Different sources of qualitative data are used in the analysis. These include interviews with key actors, observational data and document studies.

Results

The analysis demonstrates how the new professional leaders at first acted in accordance with the intentions of the hospital reform, but soon chose to avoid the more ambitious plans for restructuring the hospital structure and in fact reintroduced local politics into the decision-making process. The analysis further illustrates how local networks and engagement of political representatives from all levels of government complicated the decision-making process surrounding local structural reforms. Local political representatives teamed up with other actors and created powerful networks. At the same time, national politicians had incentives to involve themselves in the processes as supporters of the status quo.

Conclusion

Because of the incentives that faced political actors and the controversial nature of major hospital reforms, the removal of local politicians and the centralization of ownership did not necessarily facilitate reforms in the hospital structure. Keeping politics at an arm's length may simply be unrealistic and further complicate the politics of local hospital reforms.