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Ex-Health minister under fire over switch to private healthcare firm

The Deputy Mayor of Helsinki responsible for Health and social care has quit her job and announced she is moving to a leading role at a private healthcare firm. Laura Räty, who served as a Health minister in the last government, has rejected claims of a possible conflict of interest.

Image: Kalevi Rytkölä / Yle

Helsinki deputy Mayor Laura Räty has announced she will join the private healthcare firm Terveystalo in the summer. She tendered her resignation on Thursday, ending a period of five years in which she has served as Health Minister and the senior official responsible for health and social care at Finland’s biggest municipality.

In both roles she had a big say in the drafting of Finland’s upcoming reform of social and health care, which is set to create a huge new market for private healthcare firms to exploit. Now she is joining one of those firms, and leftist politicians have slammed her move.

"Problematic"

"It’s really problematic that she is switching to Terveystalo in a situation where she has detailed information on how Helsinki’s social and healthcare tendering works," Veronika Honkasalo, the leader of the Left Alliance group on Helsinki council, told Helsingin Sanomat. "This isn’t just about Räty. It raises the broader question too, of whose interests the National Coalition Party is advancing."

Räty herself says that there is no problem. She is currently on holiday and has tendered her resignation, which will be considered by the Helsinki city board at its next meeting in two weeks’ time. Her role at Terveystalo starts in the summer.

"All the things that I came to the municipality of Helsinki five years ago to do, have reached the point where it’s a good time and it’s possible to leave," said Räty. "I’ve left my official position immediately and I’m on holiday until the board accepts my resignation, so that no conflict of interest between my current and future jobs will arise."

"Positive movement"

The chair of Helsinki’s city board Tatu Rauhamäki told Yle that Räty’s move is a positive example of movement between the public and private sectors. Helsinki will run its commissioning process in conjunction with the three neighbouring towns, who according to Rauhamäki all have strong expertise.

Helsinki will not replace Räty until the whole municipality’s leadership is reformed after next year’s municipal elections.

Räty was appointed deputy mayor in 2011 and served as Health Minister in Alexander Stubb’s government in 2014-2015. She was heavily criticised then for what was perceived as a job-swap plan with her friend and party colleague Lasse Männistö.

Männistö was to leave his MP’s role, leaving the way open for the first deputy to take his place—this was Laura Räty, who had just missed out in the 2011 election but went on to parliament’s reserve list for the Helsinki region. Männistö was to become deputy mayor in her stead, but eventually abandoned that plan after the furore it generated. He did not run in the 2015 election and now works for private healthcare firm Mehiläinen. 

As minister she also ran into trouble when she appeared to suggest that she thought very few Finns earn 2,600 euros or less. Unions then claimed that more than 800,000 people have a salary lower than that threshold. After failing to be elected to parliament in the 2015 election Räty returned to her municipal post.