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Finland faces public sector doctor shortage

A physicians' interest group says public healthcare should become more attractive to draw doctors.

Kolme lääkäriä kävelee kadulla.
Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle
Yle News

Finland's public healthcare sector is missing around one thousand doctors. The Finnish Medical Association (FMA) says the answer is not only to train more physicians, but also to make working in the public sector more attractive.

The results of an FMA survey polling employers indicate that Finland is lacking some 300 doctors in primary care as well as 600 specialists.

Tuija Rajaniemi, chair of the FMA, said public healthcare needs more funds to recruit doctors.

Finland's doctor shortage is not a new issue. Previous debate on the topic has focused on the need to expand medical schools. But the FMA said the answer is not as simple as adding medical students to the pipeline, as physicians finish specialising around 15 years after starting their medical studies.

The FMA points out that the number of doctors has increased by a third in the past two decades. Rajaniemi said the crux of the matter is that many perceive working in the public sector as demanding and unattractive.

"We need more support personnel, like secretaries, in the public sector. A doctor's job should also be flexible," Rajaniemi said.

While the private sector offers doctors higher salaries, Rajaniemi said it was not entirely a question of money. She said there was more flexibility in the private sector, where doctors have more control over their working hours and patient load.

Finland's doctor shortage also has a geographic component. Small municipalities often struggle to attract highly specialised healthcare workers.

Too few doctors means longer patient queues. The government programme calls for adding 1,000 doctors to primary care to improve people's access to healthcare. Rajaniemi, however, said money has not been allocated to educate more doctors.

"If Finland says it needs more doctors then we need to have a discussion about whether the country is prepared to allocate more than nine percent of GDP for healthcare.

Finland and Iceland are the only Nordic countries using less than ten percent of GDP to fund healthcare, according to 2018 figures from public health institute THL.

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