‘Running out of options’: Husband’s fight to return paralysed wife to Sweden

A British man has told The Local he will continue the fight to move his paralysed Swedish wife home to Sweden, despite red tape blocking her access to Swedish healthcare.

'Running out of options': Husband's fight to return paralysed wife to Sweden
Hospitals in Sweden are unable to accept the woman as a patient without her re-registering in Sweden's population register first. Photo: Mikael Fritzon/TT

The woman, who is a Swedish citizen but has lived in the UK for 25 years, has spent the past year in hospital after a bike accident left her paralysed with a serious brain injury.

Her British husband has tried to return her to Sweden so the couple and their 12-year-old son can be closer to his wife’s mother and siblings. But because she is no longer listed in Sweden’s population register, bureaucracy has so far left them unable to move her back home.

Her story was first reported by The Guardian. The man – who wishes for him and his wife to remain anonymous – is now trying to contact more media organisations to try to raise awareness of his family’s situation.

“We’re a very private family. We would not have wanted to go contacting press organisations – I don’t want to have anything in the press about our personal information,” he told The Local.

“But we’re running out of options. I don’t want her to end up in a UK nursing home where she has no family, she has no support here. It’s just our immediate family, my son and myself here. There’s nobody else.”

His wife is unable to walk or talk, and must physically be in the country for her husband to re-register her as a Swedish resident at the Tax Agency.

Although those leaving Sweden retain their personal number for the rest of their lives, former residents are listed as emigrants and removed entirely from SPAR, the Swedish state’s personal address register, after three years spent abroad.

This means that, despite being a Swedish citizen, she must attend a Tax Agency office in Sweden in person to be re-registered in the system and for her personal number to be reactivated.

She is unable to walk or communicate, is paralysed from the neck down and is in a high-dependency unit in London requiring constant care due to her condition.

As a UK resident, she would be eligible for planned treatment in Sweden, but she would have to show a so-called S2 certificate approving healthcare in another country, a certificate showing her right to healthcare or medical insurance in Sweden, or a certificate showing that she lives in Sweden.

Without these documents, the family must pay the full cost of treatment themselves, unless they formally move to Sweden and are registered in the Swedish population register – something which can only be done upon arrival in Sweden.

The family has applied for an S2 certificate to fund her treatment in Sweden until she is re-registered as a resident, although her British hospital is unable to approve her travel unless they can confirm that she will be accepted for treatment at a hospital in Sweden. Swedish hospitals, however, can’t register her for treatment if she is not legally resident in Sweden, her husband told The Local.

She is therefore trapped in a situation where she cannot be transferred to a Swedish hospital directly from the UK without first arriving in Sweden to register residency – a process which can take weeks or even months.

“The problem is not funding, it’s about the bureaucratic tickbox, that she cannot be [registered as a resident] until she’s formally back on Swedish soil. She can’t be back on Swedish soil, because she’s completely disabled. And nobody will send her to Sweden because they need proof in advance that she’ll be cared for. So it’s an evil circle,” he said.

He has applied to become her Health and Welfare Deputy, which would enable him to make decisions on her behalf about her treatment and enable her British hospital to discharge her for travel to Sweden without having a Swedish hospital lined up in advance.

“But that may take another two to three years, the courts here are incredibly slow,” he told The Local.

“But if that ever does get resolved, then that would actually move things along. And then we could proceed with the S2 funding, take her to Sweden, once she’s in Sweden, then the problem goes away, then there’ll be new problems, different problems.”

“I mean, you know, none of this is going to be good. The outcome of her going to Sweden is, she’s still going to be 100% incapacitated and unable to communicate, our life is still going to be ruined, but at least, maybe, she’ll be in a prettier place where she has more family.”

The woman’s husband has been shocked by Sweden’s refusal to allow an exception to the rules and is worried that other Swedish citizens living abroad are unaware that this could happen to them.

“A lot of expatriate Swedes who are living abroad probably do not realise that they could get injured and if they’re not [registered in the personal register] anymore, they could potentially be barred from returning to Sweden.”

The family have visited Sweden many times, often spend their summers in the country and were making plans to retire to Sweden in the next year or so.

He told The Local that the situation has led to his view of Sweden changing.

“There’s the disabled rights aspect, Sweden’s usually cited as one of these enlightened countries that helps people and does the right thing. And it’s kind of shocking when you find out that this is not being enforced in this way.”

He has contacted 349 Swedish MPs, receiving only one response. He has also contacted the Discrimination Ombudsman and the Parliamentary Ombudsman, who didn’t take his case, he has contacted MEPs in Europe, the European Commission and the United Nations office of the High Commission for Human Rights who were all unable to help.

“There’s this deficit of democracy where you’re trying to contact people in Sweden, and everybody says, ‘Oh, I’m really sorry, but I can’t do anything’. There’s nobody you can appeal to. Here in the UK, I contacted my MP. And she’s been really helpful. But you can’t do that with your Riksdag member in Sweden. They can change laws, but they can’t help individuals.”

“That was kind of a big shock, especially when somebody is as sick as [she is] and really needs help now. You know, she can’t really afford to wait forever.”

Member comments

  1. Really strange to see that nobody seems to bother in the comments section. This is the second similar case reported by The Local, although the other one was reverse……an Alzheimer patient being deported to the UK.
    Like all very organised systems……when it derails……it really derails !!!

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What’s the state of Sweden’s maternity wards this summer?

A difficult summer is on the cards for maternity wards across Sweden once again this year. Here's a rundown of the situation in each region in Sweden.

What's the state of Sweden's maternity wards this summer?

Sweden’s maternity wards have issues with midwife shortages all year round, with the situation worsening over the summer period as the staff are all entitled to four consecutive weeks of holiday during the summer under Swedish law.

More babies are usually born during summer, too, meaning that the busiest period on Swedish maternity wards is often the period where they have the least staff.

So, how is the situation in maternity wards across Sweden this summer? Newswire TT asked each of Sweden’s healthcare regions to fill in a questionnaire between May 10th and May 23rd, asking for information on the state of maternity care in the run-up to the summer months. Here are the results.


Situation: Same as last summer

Blekinge region described the situation this year as strained, adding that many shifts have still not been filled.

Staff on parental leave, one hired-in independent midwife, temporary staff on hourly contracts and managers are taking shifts to fill the gaps, and midwives are being offered 7,000 kronor to move a week of holiday.

The region added that there is a small risk that patients will have to give birth in another region, although this is uncommon, and that the biggest challenge is covering midwife shifts and possible absences.


Situation: Worse than last summer

In Dalarna, the region described the situation as “fragile” due to a very small number of staff and no stand-ins for sick cover.

Their greatest concern is that staff won’t be able to cope if they have to cover for each other, according to the survey.

However, it reports that there’s also a low number of births expected, so pressure is not that high. There are around four midwife positions left unfilled, and staffing issues are being resolved by hiring retirees and giving bonuses for extra shifts.


Situation: Better than last summer

Gotland has enough midwives to cover maternity wards over the summer, and some temporary staff have been hired to cover the summer months. The region has not had to hire in any independent midwives and is not offering bonuses for staff to move their holidays.


Situation: Worse in Hudiksvall hospital, same as last year in Gävle.

In Hudiksvall, the region is 3-4 midwives short of the level needed for summer cover. It is trying to cover this with overtime shifts and by offering bonuses of 20,000 kronor a week (up from 15,000) for moving weeks of holiday.

It has had difficulties in finding enough independent midwives to bring in for holiday cover in Hudiksvall, and in Gävle, some wards are running at a reduced capacity.


Situation: Worse than last year

In Halland, capacity has been reduced to around 75 percent of normal capacity, with around 15 midwife positions unfilled. The region is hiring in independent midwives, retirees, and offering bonuses for moving holidays and working overtime. The region says that this is the third year in a row with staffing issues and describes staff as “tired”. 

It says that the biggest challenge is in Halmstad, where the neonatal ward is located.

Jämtland Härjedalen

Situation: Better than last summer

Jämtland Härjedalen’s main challenge is ensuring there are enough senior midwives working when pressure on hospitals is at its highest. It has hired in three independent midwives in part-time positions, is hiring retirees and offering bonuses for moving holidays and extra shifts.

It adds that some staff have moved their holidays and received bonuses which are offered as a certain percent of their salary.


Situation: Differs depending on maternity clinic

Jönköping has 14 empty midwife positions, and is struggling to have enough experienced staff working over the summer. It has hired independent midwives and retired staff, is offering bonuses for moved holiday weeks, but adds that there is still a risk that some patients will have to give birth in a different region.


Situation: Same as last summer

Västervik hospital has a few empty midwife positions and the biggest challenges are staff needing to take sick leave and peaks in workload. Independent midwives and retired staff have been hired, as well as bonuses offered for moving holidays and taking extra shifts. Midwives in other areas (gynaecology, postnatal care) have been moved to maternity wards over summer.


Situation: Same as last summer

Tight situation, if any staff get sick there will be more pressure on others. Two rooms on Växjö maternity ward closed. Independent midwives have been hired in and bonus offered for moving holiday. There’s a risk some patients will have to give birth in other regions.


Situation: Same as last summer

No expected staff shortages on maternity wards. Gaps in staffing have been covered by hourly workers, some new hires and staff hired through a summer recruitment initiative where the region offers to pay for travel and housing. Some staff have moved holiday weeks with a bonus of 25,000 kronor per week moved. Some staff are taking extra shifts, and independent midwives and retirees have been brought in for the summer.


Situation: Same as last summer

Difficult to get enough staff on the maternity ward at Skåne University Hospital as well as neo-natal ward as Helsingborg hospital. In Kristianstad, there are 5 empty midwife positions and they will need to scale down services over summer.

Independent midwives have been hired for the summer as well as retirees. Skåne is also offering bonuses for moving holiday weeks and taking extra shifts, and Kristianstad have brought in assistant nurses and service workers to help lessen the load.


Situation: Better than last summer

Around 50 empty midwife positions, although the region says the situation better than previous years. Two hospitals might need help with referrals. A new maternity ward at S:t Görans hospital as well as fewer expected births means the region believes it has planned well.

Stockholm has also hired in independent midwives and retirees, offering bonuses for moved holidays and for taking extra shifts. It is offering 15,000 kronor for moving one week of holiday or 25,000 kronor for moving two weeks, and adds that there is a risk that patients will have to give birth in other regions.


Situation: Same as last summer

Sörmland doesn’t have enough midwives to cover all of the region’s maternity wards, stating that it’s not possible to say how many midwives it’s missing. Like many other regions, the region has hired in independent midwives and retirees and is offering bonuses for moved holidays and for taking extra shifts.


Situation: Same as last summer

Uppsala also said it had a midwife shortage, but also a shortage of experienced assistance nurses. Around 10 midwife positions are empty this summer, and it is offering 12,000 kronor to midwives for each moved week of holiday. It adds that there is a risk of women giving birth in other regions and is combatting this by hiring in independent midwives and pensioners. It has cut the number of hospital spots available for patients just after giving birth, is offering extra pay for senior midwives during summer and is prioritising treatment that can’t wait.


Situation: Same as last summer

Värmland region said that its biggest problem is not enough experienced staff, as well as the logistics of making sure that there is a good balance of experienced staff working on each shift. It has hired independent midwives and retirees, and offering 20,000 kronor bonuses for moving holiday weeks, as well as bonuses for taking extra shifts. It is also working at minimum capacity.


Situation: Better than last summer

Despite the situation being better this year than last year, Västmanland region said that the situation was still fragile, as it has assistant nurses and midwives working during the summer who don’t work all year round.

Some midwives have been moved from other clinics to handle births, and independent midwives and retired midwives have been brought as extra cover over the summer. Midwives have been offered 15,000 kronor to move a week of holiday.


Situation: Better than last summer

Västerbotten described its biggest challenge as providing safe maternity care with extremely low staff. It has hired independent midwives, midwives working hourly rates, is offering bonuses for moving holidays and taking extra shifts and has also hired midwives from Finland.


Situation: Same as last summer

The region said that it had a shortage of around 12 midwives, which it is covering by hiring independent midwives and by asking employees to work overtime. It has also hired retired midwives, and is offering bonuses for moving holidays and taking extra shifts.

Västra Götaland

Situation: Better than last summer

Midwives, nurses and assistant nurses need to work extra shifts and move holiday weeks. Retired staff have been hired in, as well as staff working on hourly contracts. Midwives are being offered 10,000 kronor per moved week of holiday and bonuses for working overtime.


Situation: Better than last summer

Around 30 midwife positions will be unfilled over the summer, and midwives have been offered 20,000 kronor per moved week of holiday, as well as bonuses for working overtime. The biggest issue is staffing extra shifts. It writes that there is a risk of patients having to give birth in other regions.


Situation: Better than last summer

Östergötland’s biggest issue is covering sick leave or other absences. It has hired independent midwives and retired midwives and is offering bonuses for moving holidays and taking extra shifts. It adds that there is a risk of patients having to give birth in another region.