Friday's papers: Healthcare capacity, THL - ministry split and sporting awards

Finland spends less on healthcare than many other European countries.

Finnish hospitals tend to run out of capacity before those in other European countries. Image: Jarkko Riikonen / Yle

Helsingin Sanomat has a story (siirryt toiseen palveluun) asking why Finland seems to have run out of healthcare capacity at an earlier stage of the Covid epidemic than other European countries.

The paper notes that healthcare leaders started sounding the alarm early in the autumn, and includes a graph showing that even now, hospital load from Covid patients is around a third of that in the UK and Italy.

The problem, according to HS, is that Finland runs its healthcare system very lean indeed. That means there is little spare capacity when things are normal, so a pandemic quickly stretches things to breaking point.

"There is very little waste in the system, a lot of operations have been streamlined to the breaking point," says Liina-Kaisa Tynkkynen of Tampere University. "Basic healthcare is also clearly under-resourced."

The paper's graphic shows that Finland spends less per capita on healthcare than Britain, Ireland, Belgium and several other European countries.

Tynkkynen says that Finnish crisis planning has not taken into account this kind of long-running pandemic, focusing instead on situations of much shorter duration.

One aspect of that efficient spending is apparent at Malmi Hospital in Helsinki, where temporary morgues have been set up in the car park.

Iltalehti reports (siirryt toiseen palveluun) that this isn't a result of high Covid death rates, and it had also happened before the pandemic at this time of year.

On 23 January Finland votes in regional elections for new assemblies set up to manage health and social care. Find out more using this simple guide.

Kiuru's THL battles

Ilta-Sanomat has delved behind the scenes (siirryt toiseen palveluun) on Minister for Family Affairs and Social Services Krista Kiuru's (SDP) recent lonely drive to introduce remote schooling after the Christmas holidays.

At the heart of the dispute is Kiuru's view that Finland has to drive down Covid infections, which runs counter to the dominant opinion within Finland's National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) which is that the goal should be to avoid serious illness and death.

Infection numbers themselves, runs the argument, are not the right measure to look at. That affected the THL's view that remote schooling should be avoided, because the negative effects it has on pupils outweigh the advantages of lowering infection counts.

Despite the advice from THL, Kiuru went public saying she feared it was unsafe to go back to school, and was criticised for that by the anonymous THL sources.

Inside the Health Ministry, meanwhile, IS reports there is criticism of THL's sometimes conflicting views. The agency also sometimes finds itself offering advice that differs from that given by European and Global healthcare agencies, said ministry sources.

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Sporting awards

Thursday was Finland's annual sports gala, with awards handed out to the country's athletic elite at a glitzy ceremony and all the papers reporting (siirryt toiseen palveluun) on proceedings.

Athlete of the Year went to swimmer Matti Mattsson, who won bronze in the 200m breaststroke at the Tokyo Olympics.

Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky was named Footballer of the Year, while retiring national football captain Tim Sparv got the 'role model of the year' award for his outspoken stance on human rights and the Qatar World Cup.