Friday, 11 September 2009

VAB, swine flu and the Swedish medical system

I have a sick boy. He lay on the couch for two days with a temperature, dozing on and off, watching tv and hardly eating a morsel. Monday, day 1, he was a bit sniffly and complained every now and again of a sore throat and sore ears, only later to announce when questioned that No, they didn't hurt. His main symtoms have been tiredness and a fever.

Then on Wednesday he fell asleep under the kitchen table just after 5pm and slept through to the next morning. Thursday he slept for almost 3 hours during the day and was still tired. So today, Friday I decided that perhaps I'd better ring the doctor and get him checked out - perhaps it isn't just a virus but something more serious.

To get a doctor's appointment on the day you need to ring the nurse at the local clinic and she calls you back - which they did after almost an hour. I outlined his symtoms and she asked what it was I was wanting(!) Of course I was wanting to make an appointment for him to be checked out. She then went through a questionnaire that she had in front of her and clearly it was a "swine flu screening questionnaire". They don't want anyone in there who has shown swine flu syptoms in the last 7 days, she informed me. She would leave a message for the doctor to ring me back sometime today.

Sweden is reaching the peak for the outbreak of Swine Flu, according to an article today in The Local, and the government hope to vaccinate some 90% of the population. Ever since it was announced that the vaccine would be freely available to all I've been pondering this attempt to thwart a local pandemic and I can only put it down to the cost of VAB and sickness benefits.

VAB stands for Vård Av Barn - or child care - the type of caring for a child when they are sick, the type of caring I've been doing this week. You see the government pays me 80% of my salary up to a certain amount when I am "vabbing" or caring for my sick child. They pay it every day I am at home with my child and there is no need for a doctor's certificate unless they are off for longer than a week. Their only demand is an explanation and a signed document from school or daycare saying that the child has been away. And there is no limit to how many days a year a child can be off sick. It must cost the state an absolute fortune. Compare that to a system where the parent gets nothing for staying home with a sick child - how sick must a kid be then to justify a day without pay??

Adults also get sickness benefits. The first day off is without benefits but after that they receive 80% of their salary. A doctor's certificate is needed after a week and again there is no limit on the number of sick days a person can have off in a year, although questions do get asked after a while.

We have a long winter in this country and for six months of the year viruses run rampant and both kids and adults are regularly at home with colds, coughs and flus. If the swine flu hits Sweden like they are anticipating it will it will without doubt lead to a serious budget blow-out. Add that to the already high unemployment levels (also get 80% of salary with exceptions) and the Swedish economy is going to take quite a beating!

No wonder the Swedish government is both willing and hoping to vaccinate 90% of the population - I just wonder how anyone will get a doctor's certificate when the doctors clearly don't want anything to do with those of us who are sick!

More information available in English from Försäkringskassan

Reproduced from the Live In Sweden Blog!


  1. I had to sit in the car park at our local Dr surgery when I 'may' have had swine flu - then when my appt was called I had to put on a mask (and so did the Dr). She didn't test me - they only test people here who are in hospital or who die - but said I 'possibly' had it. Worst sickness of my life. We kept the mask routine going at home whenever the kids came in my room and Daz slept in the spare room. Fortunately it was only me who had it - but I wouldn't wish it on anyone - I dont think I have ever had the flu before after having had this one! (BTW - fully recovered - that was last week of June)

  2. oh, it cost me a week off work and then a week when I was probably only 50% capacity (but back at work) Totally wiped me!

  3. They are not testing anyone here anymore either. And they don't want us anywhere near the clinics. I did finally get a doc's appointment b/c I thought he might have had strep throat. The doc called me back and screened me first - no, it doesn't sound like swine flu to me - he said. Yet I had never indicated I thought it was - the nurse assumed. You can tell it is on everyone's minds at the moment.

    Turned out half the daycare was away last week with a stomach bug so we at least missed getting that, thankfully!

    What happens if the kids get sick in Oz and you take time off to look after them? DO you take a sick day? holiday day? day without pay? I wonder what it is like in other countries??

    Glad you are feeling better - I have heard that it really wipes you out and I'm surprised you only took a week off! Did they prescribe you with anything? Tamiflu??

  4. Got prescribed relenza. Dr said Tamiflu and relenza were much of a muchness - I was too sick to care what she gave me...
    I started feeling unwell on the Friday. by the Saturday I was feverish. (I was on a girls weekend away and they had to drive me home - can you imagine my disappointment??? I had soooo been looking forward to it!) I had that whole week off and went back to work less than perfect the Monday after. Felt like I'd been hit by a truck that 2nd week but managed to get into work. Never had 'cold' type symptoms and cough/throat came on as a secondary symptom. I dont think I was 'contagious' as such until I started coughing which was a couple of days in.
    I think the fear of swine flu has definitely subsided since we are leaving winter - hardly hear any mention of it now...
    Every workplace is different here but for me I accrue 3 'personal' days per year (up to a max of 9 - ie if you dont use them you lose them!) I can use them to care for a sick relative (parent, child, spouse, sibling) or if I had to spend time at home waiting for a plumber or other handyman for urgent work, or if our worksite has a forced closure (like between Christmas/ New Year) and we dont have rec leave left we can use the personal days. They are in addition to our sick days. I believe there is some negotiation going on that we can use our own sick days to care for a child in the future. Benefit of working for a Federal Govt institution - dont think it is so 'generous' in the private sector.