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Finland’s new public healthcare system kicks off with budget shortfall

After years of planning and political clashes, the biggest administrative reform in the history of Finland was launched on New Year’s Eve, and with a projected one billion euro budget deficit.

As the new year began, responsibility for providing Finland’s public healthcare services were transferred from the country’s 293 municipalities to 21 self-governing wellbeing services counties, with the capital, Helsinki, forming its own services unit. Additionally, social welfare and rescue services are now the responsibility of these regional authorities.

After decades of political wrangling and planning, the operations of the new wellbeing services counties apparently kicked off smoothly.

There were no reports of problems with IT systems which had been a worry during the transition.

In general, administrators in the South Savo wellbeing services county woke up on the first day of the year with a sense of relief.

“We held a management team meeting in the morning and it seems that everything went as planned without any problems. The patient information systems also work,” Kimmo Kuosmanen, director of health services in the South Savo region told Yle on Sunday.

Immediate changes

Some key figures give a sense of the scale of the reform. The South Savo wellbeing services county, just one of the 22 national administrative units, has 8,000 employees, a budget of 800 million euros, 190 offices and 850 data systems.

The biggest challenge facing these wellbeing services counties is money – their combined first-year deficit is projected to be well over one billion euros.

More online services are being rolled out to cut costs. The main goal of the reform is to provide basic healthcare at a lower cost in order to reduce pressure on more expensive specialised medical care.

“The change started right at the beginning of the year. We are introducing digital services, which allow residents to access a nurse or a doctor remotely for minor medical issues without the need to visit the office,” Kuosmanen explained.

With around 130,000 inhabitants, South Savo is one of the smallest services counties. But, because of long distances between population centres, and a large increase in seasonal residents during the summer months, there are two central hospitals in the region.

New Year’s night was quiet in Mikkeli Central Hospital’s maternity ward.

“Everything is working as it should and it seems to be that way for the rest of the hospital,” Midwife Anne Pikkarainen told Yle.

As of Sunday afternoon, South Savo’s first baby of 2023 was still being eagerly awaited.

“There are a few candidates, but it is impossible to say whether they will be born on the first day of the year. I didn’t get a crystal ball as a gift this Christmas either,” Pikkarainen said.

Rescue services ready to go

The first day of the year, and first day of the new system reform, was also quiet for the South Savo rescue service. Even with the New Year celebrations, and the fact that the region’s secondary roads were full of snow on Sunday, there were few alarms.

“All of our systems were tested the previous week and the transition took place a few days in advance. Everything works,” said Fire Marshal Joni Himberg.

On the first day of the new year, the only jobs for South Savo rescue services were responding to a call of one car off the road, and a strange smell in the stairwell of a block of flats.

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