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Maternity ward protesters take to Stockholm

Published tisdag 28 mars kl 17.15
Protester: We will not stop until it is open again
(7:46 min)
Sandra Wallin and Seth Hjalmarsson protesting in Stockholm against the closure of the maternity ward in sollefteå.
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Sandra Wallin and Seth Hjalmarsson protesting in Stockholm against the closure of the maternity ward in sollefteå. Credit: Ulla Engberg/Radio Sweden
Sandra Wallin and her baby Lisa Ingvarsson.
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Sandra Wallin gave birth to her baby Lisa in Stockholm. She says she is relieved she did not have to go through the stress of travelling up to 200 kilometres through the forest to get to a maternity ward. Credit: Ulla Engberg/Radio Sweden

The government will allocate an extra SEK 500 million to maternity care in the spring budget. People protesting against the closure of the maternity ward in Sollefteå are hoping this means it can re-open. But there is no sign as yet that this will happen.

Ahead of a meeting with representatives of seven health authorities on Tuesday, the minister for health Gabriel Wikström announced that the centre-left government has agreed with the Left party that they will put another SEK 500 million to improve the maternity care around the country.

The announcement comes after months of protest in the northern town of Sollefteå, where the maternity ward was closed at the end of January. Only days after the closure, a woman was forced to give birth in the car on the way to the hospital, which is now up to 200 kilometres away, on a bumpy road in the forest.

Since the closure, people have been occupying the local hospital, in shifts day and night, to protest. And on Tuesday, some of them travelled to Stockholm, to protest ahead of the meeting between the minister and the regional health authorities.

Joining them outside parliament, was Sandra Wallin, who herself grew up in Sollefteå. She has since moved to Stockholm, and has given birth to her two children here, but she says she is protesting on behalf of her friends back in Sollefteå.

"I feel it is my responsibility to stand up for my friends who live in northern Sweden. They are my age, and when they have children they risk giving birth in the woods, in the car," she said.

Also among the protestors is Seth Hjalmarsson, who has travelled down to the capital from Sollefteå. He says the protest is not just about the closure of the maternity ward, but it is a wider issue about services for people who live outside the major cities.

"We want to stop the closure of the less populated areas in Sweden. We are one of the most taxed people in the world and we should have great care for the women and children for that money," he said. 

One of those travelling to actually meet the health minister was Maja Gilbert Westholm, from the Left Party. She is representing the health authority in Dalarna, where some women have to travel even further than from Sollefteå to get to hospital to give birth. Women in northern Dalarna have up to 300 kilometres to get to a maternity ward, after the one in Mora closed down in 2009.

"We couldn't keep it open, because we had no gynecologist - or pediatricians that could work 24 hours a day. So for the safety of mothers, or for the safety of children we had to close the maternity ward there," she said.

According to official statistics, 29 women in Dalarna gave birth to children on the way to hospital last year. But Maja Gilbert Westholm says babies are born on the way to hospitals all around the country, this does not necessarily have anything to do with the distance to the nearest maternity ward.

"There aren't more mothers giving birth in the car from the north of Dalarna than the rest of Dalarna. If you live in the north, you are used to this distance, and you know that you have to take the distance into account," she said.

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