Akershus Fortress, the beautiful Oslo landmark, has borne witness to great changes in the Nordic Region over the centuries, including disputes between a good many monarchs and nobles.
On Thursday 30 March 2017, the historic venue hosted a meeting of the Nordic Council of Ministers for Health and Social Affairs (MR-S) that went further than just acknowledge what has been reality for more than two centuries – that the Nordic countries work with each other not against each other – it also showed that Nordic co-operation has entered a new phase of development and closer relations.
When I took upi the post of Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers four years ago, I had a clear remit to reform co-operation. The result of this, the reform package Nordic Region 2.0 has been adopted by the Nordic governments. It includes initiatives designed to bring about a more political, dynamic and effective form of co-operation relevant to governments, individuals and businesses alike.
Strategic analyses have been a vital tool in this reform work. We commission a respected Nordic figure – usually a former politician or CEO – to come up with proposals for priorities in a specific sphere over the next 5–10 years. They make their recommendations after talks with large numbers of stakeholders in the field concerned in all of the Nordic countries.
The first strategic analysis was into health. Former Swedish Minister of Social Affairs, Bo Könberg, published his health report in 2014. Since then, we have commissioned analyses of co-operation on working life, energy and the environment, all with the aim of intensifying and revitalising Nordic co-operation in these areas.
The meeting of health and social ministers in Akershus showed that this approach is working. They noted that follow-up work on many of the Könberg recommendations is well underway – including working together on antibiotic resistance, highly specialised medical treatments, rare diagnoses, psychiatry, public health and social inequality in health. The ministers also agreed to work more closely together in the field of medicine. All these are issues highly relevant to the people of the Nordic Region, and areas in which co-operation will help provide patients with better treatment and cheaper and better medicines in the long run.
The reality is that the Nordic countries are too small to do this individually, but big enough when we work together. We are also very similar in many areas. It makes sense for the health ministers and agencies to exchange information and compare experiences about what works and what doesn’t – for example, in psychiatry and on highly specialised treatments and rare diagnoses, the incidence of which is so rare in each of the countries that the number of patients does not make it feasible to develop and maintain the necessary level of expertise.
The experience gained during the follow up on the Könberg Report has been so positive that the ministers decided at Akershus to commission a similar analysis of social affairs. When it comes to work with children, the vulnerable, people with disabilities and the elderly, the situation is the same – the Nordic countries face many of the same problems, can learn from each other and achieve better results together. Just as happened in health, I fully expect that this analysis will lead to us working together more intensively on social affairs.