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Firms call for end to Red Cross' first aid market dominance

Companies offering first aid training say the Red Cross has an unfair advantage marketing the same services. 

Tyttö ja poika elvyttävät nukkea ensiapuharjoituksissa.
File photo of first aid training. Image: Lea Joutsensaari / Yle

Employers that choose Red Cross-educated experts to train their workers receive rebates from the state for doing so, but operators of private firms claim that amounts to a monopoly, because their services are not subsidised. On the other hand, the Red Cross says it is simply a question of quality control.

Every year, firms across the country spend about four million euros on first aid instruction provided by workers trained by the Finnish Red Cross (FRC).

The non-profit organisation set up a separate company, Punainen Risti Ensiapu (roughly: Red Cross First Aid), which offers courses in first aid.

Employers across the country are obliged by law to regularly provide first aid training for their workers, so for the time being, the business appears to be continually profitable.

Regular complaints to competition watchdog

The issue of the FRC's dominance in the training course market has been discussed for the past decade, ever since the Competition and Consumer Authority received the first complaint about the situation when the FRC started its training offshoot. Since then, complaints have regularly arrived at the authority, most recently about two years ago, according to the authority's research chief Max Jansson.

"If a company wants to organise first aid education training, the course leader is required to have been trained by the FRC for the firm to receive compensation," Jansson said.

Many operators of private first aid training companies say they are frustrated by the situation, adding that their courses aren't eligible for state compensation provided by the social insurance institution Kela.

However, the difference between the FRC and its competitors doesn't end there. For example, private first aid training companies are required to purchase first aid certificates from the FRC in order to stay in business.

Disadvantages to being private

The privately-owned firm Suomen Ensiapukoulutus - whose workers are Red Cross-trained - trails slightly behind the FRC in annual turnover by about one million euros. But the company's CEO, Tero Roivainen said the playing field is uneven.

"The cost of certifications can amount to a quarter of a course's price for us and we have a difficult time competing with the FRC in bids or the cost of training courses," Roivainen explained.

The matter of unfair competition was raised after the FRC decided to set up the first aid training company, an arrangement that Roivanen said should have been done differently.

"Instead, both course leader training and the certificates should be taken care of by the FRC's charitable organisation. Then the competition situation would be fair," Roivanen said.

The FRC's chief of national preparedness Leena Kämäräinen said that the group wants to guarantee high-quality first aid training, but noted that companies looking for first aid educators can choose whoever they want.

However she emphasised that FRC-certified trainers are able to identify specific health risks at various workplaces and can adjust courses to address them. She added that the FRC has been developing first aid courses for a long time on an international scale.

"We are a global operation and do not work to market anything - instead we want to help people. Our goal is that everyone should have first aid skills," Kämäräinen said.

Ministry looks for changes

The competition authority's Jansson explained that the matter has now been taken up by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, where officials are examining different solutions.

Under particular scrutiny is the validity of a contract written in the 1970s which said the FRC and Finnish state should "coordinate and develop first aid as part of the national crisis preparedness plan."

The Head Of Department at Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Tuija Kumpulainen, said change of some kind is on the way.

"These days, we don't think that we can continue with the old agreement, but still want to guarantee that first aid education will have a common base," she said, noting that the ministry wants to sort out a solution this autumn, but was still unsure of how that might take shape.

"The world has changed and we need to see what is possible today," Kumpulainen said.

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