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Record number of healthcare workers quitting profession

Finland's National Supervisory Authority for Health and Welfare says many nurses are leaving their jobs because of the possible consequences of the Patient Safety Act.

Nurses demonstrating in Helsinki during official strike action in April. Image: Benjamin Suomela / Yle

Nearly 500 social and healthcare professionals so far this year have requested that their right to practise the profession be removed from the register of the National Supervisory Authority for Health and Welfare (Valvira).

"The number is 20 times higher than normal," Valvira manager Kirsi Liukkonen told Yle.

The authority has already granted the removal of about 450 licenses, with another 50 applications still pending.

Applicants do not need to justify their requests or provide an explanation for the reasons behind their decision to quit the profession.

However, Liukkonen noted that many healthcare workers have applied to have their licenses withdrawn because they have retired or changed jobs.

Informally, she added, the authority has also understood that many are choosing to quit because of the escalation of industrial action by nursing unions as well as the debate on a patient safety law, which could force nurses to work even if they choose to go on strike.

"Some applications have been justified on the grounds that they cannot be forced to work. There has also been dissatisfaction with the obligation for nurses to be vaccinated," Liukkonen added.

Millariikka Rytkönen, chair of the nursing union Tehy, said in the spring that introduction of the Patient Safety Act amounted to a "forced labour law" that would prohibit the right of nurses to strike.

"Nurses themselves have strongly indicated that they intend to request the removal of their professional rights from Valvira to protect themselves from this very situation, that an official would come to their door and force them to work under the threat of a fine," Rytkönen said during an appearance on Yle's A-Studio current affairs programme on 20 April.

Although the number of requests for the removal of licenses has hit a record high, Valvira noted that the amount is still quite small relative to the 330,000 healthcare workers currently on the register.

Removal of rights has legal consequences

Workers in the healthcare sector do have the right to request the removal of their professional licenses, and those requests must be granted.

"It is worth remembering that this is not a technical matter, but that the removal has legal consequences," Liukkonen said.

Without a license, a nurse who has previously worked in the public sector cannot move to the private sector to become a nurse.

"Then you could be guilty of unauthorised professional activity," Liukkonen noted.

Valvira usually aims to process removal requests within a reasonable time, or around two months. Former workers can also request the restoration of rights, but this process can take longer because the requests are dealt with by a Valvira panel.

"We prioritise the issues to be addressed. Whatever is most urgent for patient safety is done first," Liukkonen added.

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