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Coronavirus crisis prompts flood of complaints to Ombudsman

The majority of complaints related to education, social services and health care.

Kouluruuan jakamista Sammonlahden koululla
The Ombudsman reported receiving many complaints related to the provision of school meals during the distance learning period. Image: Kare Lehtonen / Yle
Yle News

Finland’s Parliamentary Ombudsman has received more than 700 complaints from members of the public related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Ombudsman’s role is to ensure that authorities and private companies in Finland observe the law and carry out their duties when performing public tasks.

During the early spring, the office received about 100 complaints, but this figure has swelled to over 700 during the summer.

The most common complaints related to education, social welfare and health care, but there have also been issues raised by members of the public against the police, transport companies and prisons.

Story continues after the graphic.

Coronavirus-era complaints.

Education the main source of ire

The majority of complaints received by the Parliamentary Ombudsman related to education, with almost 150 complaints about universities and polytechnics.

To a large extent, the complaints have concerned two issues: Entrance exams and study place choices for students.

Many of these complaints are still pending a decision.

Additionally, about 40 complaints were made about primary education, including the availability of school meals when pupils were asked to learn from home, as well as the transferring of tutors and school assistants to other positions during the spring.

"The complainants' issues have been related, for example, to the fact that in some municipalities school meals were only available during the distance learning period as a snack pack. In some municipalities, food had to be picked up very far away," Kristiina Kouros, Secretary to the Ombudsman, told Yle.

Families have reported that children were expected to pick up the food packages from schools that were between seven and 15 kilometres from their homes, with one family complaining that their children had to collect from a school 28 kilometres away. No school transport was available for children when their schools switched to remote learning.

Opposition to ban on elderly care home visits

The second most common area of complaints received by the Parliamentary Ombudsman related to social welfare services. These were about a ban on visits to care facilities for the elderly, as well as child protection concerns and income support.

Complaints related to care for the elderly included restrictions on visiting times and the fact that some care units did not want or know how to use video calls, while others concerned elderly patients being left alone in their own room for long periods.

Deputy Ombudsman Maija Sakslin has resolved one case relating to the ban on visits to care facilities for the elderly, finding that the instructions issued by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health implied that the bans on visits were based in law.

"For this reason, the visit to nursing homes was very strictly enforced. The Deputy Ombudsman stated that if visitation bans are to be imposed, they should be provided for by law," Senior Ombudsman Lotta Hämeen-Anttila told Yle.

Maternity support staff a key issue

The majority of health care complaints during the coronavirus crisis were connected to maternity support staff.

"Quantitatively, most health care complaints have come from restrictions on the presence of maternity support staff," Senior Ombudsman Secretary Heidi Laurila said.

The Ombudsman has not yet made a decision on how hospitals should treat support staff during the coronavirus crisis, and the matter is pending.

Finland-Sweden border raised issues

Almost all complaints related to border control concerned traffic between Finland and Sweden.

"The complaints about the activities of the Border Guard concern how it has been possible to leave Finland and return to the country at the Finnish-Swedish border" Senior Secretary to the Ombudsman Kristian Holman told Yle.

Some of the complaints also concerned the requirement for voluntary quarantine when returning to Finland from Sweden, Holman added.

Complaints about police at BLM protest

Complaints made about the police during the coronavirus pandemic were mostly related to the Black Lives Matter demonstration held in Helsinki’s Senate Square in early June, and issues related to the closing of the Uusimaa regional border in March.

A main source of irritation for complainants about the Black Lives Matter demonstration was that some police officers were photographed holding demonstration signs, while others questioned why an event that gathered a large number of people was allowed at all.

The Ombudsman’s office said all complaints about the closing of the Uusimaa border have now been resolved.

"In these decisions, it was considered that the police had the right to prevent the border from being crossed at that time," Haapamäki said.

Transport and postal services

During the period of the coronavirus crisis, the Ombudsman has also received complaints about the activities of Finnish postal service Posti and state railway firm VR.

The issues have been related to a range of different matters, including VR's safety arrangements on trains, receiving refunds for the purchasing of VR’s seasonal tickets, as well as complaints over Posti’s postal delivery during the crisis.

According to the Ombudsman's office, hundreds of complaints are still pending a decision.

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