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‘Feeling safe and in good hands’: helping patients and relatives as a palliative care social worker in Norway

Posted on May 28, 2024 by pallcare

A diagnosis of a life limiting illness can bring many worries for patients – and in particular, money can be a very significant concern. Sven André Haug, social worker at Haukeland University Hospital’s Palliative Center in Norway, tells us about how his role can ease this burden.

AI image of hands holding earth and a small seedling
Photocredit: Chil Vera, Pixabay

Norway has one of the best welfare systems that exists, with one year’s paid sick leave of 100% pay (up to NOK 711.000 / E 60.662) included. When you become ill, there are various temporary financial benefits available until you can apply for either social security or disability benefits. The main rule says that you need to be on several temporary measures before an application for disability benefits can be sent. The processing time of that kind of application is between eight and ten months. Luckily enough, we have a paragraph saying if this is a matter of great urgency, the application must be processed quickly. Which can be between one (!!) day and eight weeks.

My patients are often in the situation where the sick leave/pay period is nearly to the end, and we need to clarify the situation regarding the financial situation that the family is to experience. First, we need to ask what kind of insurance the family has from their employer, the union and the private sector. This, plus the various conditions in these different insurances, decides if they will apply for disability benefits or temporary benefits. It can be a complex thing to navigate: “I lost NOK 2.4 million (E 205.000) because of not reading the terms in my private disability insurance” one patient told me. Depending on the patient’s condition, we can help them with their applications, and I’m glad to be able to help, one writing to me “Because of your advice, I got a higher disability benefit. Thank you!”

We then find out more about the patient’s circumstances. Who is the family? Husband and wife? With their own children? Or cohabitants with their own children on each side, and a child in common? If so, is there a will in the family? Here we would recommend a will, because by Norwegian inheritance law, cohabitants without common children have no right to inherit from each other.  And we must ask the question, is there a child from an office party thirty years ago? Also to help the family, we will recommend an enduring power of attorney, especially in cases with brain tumor or metastasis to the brain. This document will give a close relative permission to act on the patient’s behalf in relation to their finances and other obligations.

Additionally, all hospitals are required to have a responsible person to interview the kid(s), regarding how the kid(s) react to the situation and if/how to communicate with their kindergarten, school, football team etc, and to see what support children might need. This is a service for all patients with children to the age of 18.

For the spouse/cohabitant, we see if they need to apply for sick leave/pay, or if the employers’ rules for temporary compassionate leave are good enough. Also, we arrange the small things for them such as parking at the hospital for a small fee, companion benefits or just an extra bed in the room.

At the end of life, we will let relatives know about attendance allowances which are given for sixty days and are used instead of the relative’s own salary or sick pay. This arrangement is only for people that stay in their homes, not in hospital or other institutes. We also inform relatives that the welfare system also covers (if eligible) part of the funeral cost. In addition, the union might contribute towards burial costs.

Most important in all this is the contact we establish with the patient and relatives to make them feel safe and in good hands…and sometimes we can make a dream come true; the smile of the 18 year old patient finally after three weeks in the hospital meeting his dog again…priceless, just priceless and heartbreaking.

Links and resources

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Read our EAPC blog collection about palliative care social work to hear perspectives from across Europe, and across the world. Here are recent blogs from the collection:

About the author;

Sven André Haug is a social worker with further education in community housing, refugee work and palliative care. Since 2010 he has worked at Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen, Norway, specialising in palliative care since 2013. He also teaches social rights for patients, next of kin and healthcare professionals. André first worked within financial social assistance, before moving to community social work, which has included specialising in housing and working with those experiencing drug and alcohol addiction combined with mental illness. Since 2022 he has been a board member of the Norwegian Palliative Care Association. He also has his own company where he performs as toastmaster, writer and DJ.