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HS: Experts defend massive health care plans against "old-fashioned" critique

An opinion piece in daily Helsingin Sanomat holds that finishing the troubled "sote" health care reform is preferable to a sociopolitical limbo.

Tyhjiä sairaalavuoteita sairaalan käytävällä.
The health care reform faces steep criticism, which experts say is unfounded. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

Daily Helsingin Sanomat published an opinion piece on Sunday that criticises the critics of government's struggling health care reform.

The letter was written by chief Marina Erhola from the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), Helsinki University professor Heikki Hiilamo and Aalto University research head Katariina Silander. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health appointed the three specialists to support the development of the "sote" social and health care programme.

In their open letter the trio writes that much of the critique directed at the reform includes outdated threat-mongering and outright misconceptions.

One of those misconceptions, they say, is that the massive health care shift – which would transfer responsibility for all public health and social care services from municipalities to 18 newly-created regional governments – has been negligently prepared. Erhola, Hiilamo and Silander say that, on the contrary, the reform's preparations have been exhaustive and that experts have been consulted to positive effect.

"We must understand and trust that a piece of legislation this complicated will one day be ready to implement," the threesome writes, adding that the proposition's challenges can be rectified in Parliament.

"Uncertain consequences"

Erhola, Hiilamo and Silander point out in their missive that the reform's critics tend not to suggest alternative solutions to the government law package. Some of the original plans for the reform were scrapped by previous cabinets as unsustainable.

The experts add that while the "sote" reform may face problems, prolonging the process is also extremely risky.

"If the reform were to stop in its tracks now, our service system would certainly not stay the same. Social and health care services are in a dynamic state, and would very quickly become privatised," the group writes.

In the lengthy lead-up to the reform, domestic care services, child protection services, mental patient housing support and occupational health services are already widely owned by private concerns.

If the reform is scrapped, the three say, municipalities and hospital districts will continue down their own paths. This would lead to great variance in practices and ultimately to inequality in service.

"A course controlled by legislation is better than letting the different systems change chaotically," Erhola, Hiilamo and Silander write.

One example of party criticism came from Anna-Maja Henriksson, chair of the opposition Swedish People's Party, who said in November that the government should abort a reform-related plan to shut down seven of 19 accident and emergency departments in Finland. The plan would see a reduction in service levels at Vaasa hospital, which the SPP says would endanger the right of Swedish speakers to service in their own language.

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