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Helsinki admits only one in three pupils get statutory medical checkups

Access to medical health checks are a statutory right for first, fifth and eighth graders.

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There is a shortage of school doctors in the capital region, and the situation has been made worse by the pandemic. Image: Derrick Frilund / Yle

Fewer than 30 percent of school children in Helsinki underwent an extensive health examination by a school doctor in the 2019-2020 academic year. The medical health examinations are mandatory in the first, fifth and eighth grades.

In the previous school year, just over half of school children received an extensive health examination with a doctor. A year before that, in the 2017-2018 academic year, 60 percent of first, fifth and eighth graders received the health examination.

Service vouchers for health checks on the way

The city of Helsinki plans to introduce service vouchers in school healthcare later this spring, which would allow children to get the legally-required checkup from private healthcare providers. The use of service vouchers for school kids' medical examinations will be a temporary measure in place until the end of the 2022 spring semester.

Private healthcare providers are allowed to charge up to 70 euros for the schoolkids' mandatory checkup. If interpreting services are required, private providers can charge up to 146 euros, but no additional fees may be charged to families.

"This is a short-term fix to the situation, which has been made worse by the pandemic. However, the goal is to return to school doctors to provide the service," said Helsinki Deputy Mayor Sanna Vesikansa (Green).

Vesikansa said families and schools will be informed on the matter later. She also promised that private healthcare providers will relay information on each child's health back to the school.

School doctor shortage in the capital

As with other health professionals, there is a shortage of school doctors in the capital region – and the pandemic has made the current situation worse. There are 30 school doctor job vacancies in Helsinki.

"Many of the booked health examinations also go unused, and people don't turn up to the appointments. This is a very frustrating situation especially when there is a shortage of doctors," says Tuula Salmivaara-Pesonen, Head of School Health Care in Helsinki.

Both Vesikansa and Salmivaara-Pesonen point out that if there are concerns about a child's health, efforts will be made to find them an appointment.

"We always aim to book appointments for children with an urgent issue. School health care provision is an important part of the basic services available to children," Salmivaara-Pesonen said.

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