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Int J Circumpolar Health. 2017;76(1):1347476. doi: 10.1080/22423982.2017.1347476.

Social justice, access and quality of healthcare in an age of austerity: users' perspective from rural Iceland.

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a Faculty of Occupational Therapy, School of Health Sciences , University of Akureyri , Akureyri , Iceland.
b Head of Faculty of Graduate Studies, School of Health Sciences , University of Akureyri , Akureyri , Iceland.
c Faculty of Social Sciences, School of Humanities and Social Sciences , University of Akureyri , Akureyri , Iceland.


Iceland is sparsely populated but social justice and equity has been emphasised within healthcare. The aim of the study is to examine healthcare services in Fjallabyggð, in rural northern Iceland, from users' perspective and evaluate social justice, access and quality of healthcare in an age of austerity. Mixed-method approach with transformative design was used. First, data were collected with questionnaires (response rate of 53% [N=732] in 2009 and 30% [N=415] in 2012), and analysed statistically, followed by 10 interviews with healthcare users (2009 and 2014). The results were integrated and interpreted within Bronfenbrenner's Ecological Model. There was significantly less satisfaction with accessibility and variety of healthcare services in 2012 after services downsizing. Solid primary healthcare, good local elderly care, some freedom in healthcare choice and reliable emergency services were considered fundamental for life in a rural area. Equal access to healthcare is part of a fundamental human right. In times of economic downturn, people in rural areas, who are already vulnerable, may become even more vulnerable and disadvantaged, seriously threatening social justice and equity. With severe cutbacks in vitally important healthcare services people may eventually choose to self-migrate.


Iceland; Rural communities; access to health care; equity in health; health care services; human rights; mixed methods; social justice; transformative design; users’ perspective

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