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THL: Longer waits for care in all Finnish hospital districts this year

The national health institute blames the pandemic for the increasingly long waits for specialised medical care.

The shortest waiting times were in the Kymenlaakso hospital district. File photo of Päijät-Häme Central Hospital's Covid ward from November. Image: Henrietta Hassinen / Yle

The number of patients awaiting specialist care for more than half a year rose by almost a fifth in the first half of this year, the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) said on Thursday.

At the end of April, about 150,000 people were waiting for access to non-emergency medical care, slightly fewer than in December 2021. However, about 13,000 of them had been queuing for more than half a year, and the number of those with long waits had risen since late 2021.

The longest waits for treatment in the early part of this year were in the North Savo hospital district in eastern Finland.

The shortest waiting times were in the Kymenlaakso hospital district in the southeast. The neighbouring district of South Karelia, meanwhile, had the lowest number of patients with long waiting times for treatment.

Median waiting times increased in the first half of the year in all Finnish hospital districts.

Backlog in child and adolescent mental health services

According to THL Development Manager Pia Tuominen, the number of people awaiting treatment was clearly linked to the Covid surge in early 2022.

"Nursing staff were transferred to deal with the pandemic, which slowed efforts to deal with the backlog of care this spring," Tuominen said in a press release.

Tuominen pointed out that the number of people awaiting treatment rose in some sectors, including mental health services for children and young people.

A survey published a day earlier indicated a growing need for such services among students during the past school year.

THL said that the number of people waiting for cataract surgery also grew to more than 11,000 by the end of April. More than a third of them had been queuing for surgery for more than three months.

On the other hand, said Tuominen, fewer people have sought treatment for many non-Covid-related conditions during the pandemic, for various reasons. This is reflected in the number of referrals for specialist care.

"Although the number of referrals has decreased, the number of people awaiting emergency medical care has increased. This indicates that the undoing the backlog of care will be a slow process," she added.

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