The public health system comes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Health and Care Services, which is responsible for devising and monitoring national health policy. Responsibility for provision of services is decentralized to the municipal and regional level. The municipalities are in charge of providing primary health services such as general practitioner clinics, while the counties and the five health regions provide the more specialized medical services, such as hospitals. A number of authorized private hospitals and health services have also been established in addition to the public facilities.
Hospital queues and an aging population currently pose two of the greatest challenges to Norwegian health policy. The percentage of elderly in the population has risen rapidly since the 1970s, creating an ever-increasing need for curative, rehabilitation, nursing and care services.
Norway’s first public hospital facilities were established during the 1700s, with the arrival of specialized hospitals and psychiatric wards towards the end of the 1800s. When x-ray machines and modern anaesthetics appeared after 1900, the modern hospital sector gained new momentum. Since 1945, the development of the public health service has followed international trends in the use of antibiotics and other types of medications, as well as ongoing improvements in medical technology.
Physicians have long formed the backbone of the Norwegian public health service, and have often paved the way for state and local health reforms.