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HUS seeks hundreds of workers to triple testing capacity

The basic services and health ministry has called on Finland to increase Covid testing capacity to 20,000 per day.

HUSLABin kyltti ikkunassa.
Helsinki and Uusimaa hospital district's laboratory services department, HUSLAB Image: Tiina Jutila / Yle

The Helsinki and Uusimaa hospital district's (HUS) laboratory services arm, HUSLAB, would need up to 700 additional staff members to be able to meet a ministerial goal of increasing Finland's coronavirus testing capacity, according to the lab's diagnostics director, Lasse Lehtonen.

Last week, Minister for Basic Services and Health, Krista Kiuru, announced plans to increase the country's capacity from the current rate of 14,000 to 20,000 per day.

To meet that goal, it would mean that HUSLAB would need to increase its own capacity to around 10,000 tests per day, or more than triple its current capacity, Lehtonen said.

"At least 600-700 more people would be needed to handle testing," he said, noting that the lab's current staff of 250-300 handle around 3,000 coronavirus tests per day.

But that goal could prove to be difficult to reach.

"There's not that many available trained people in the sector, if, for example 500 need to be found within a couple of months," Lehtonen said.

Staff on loan

Currently, operations at HUSLAB in the Helsinki area mostly deal with coronavirus testing work, while some testing across the district is being handled in various municipalities and hospitals.

As the viral outbreak began in Finland, government implemented the Emergency Powers Act, which gave hospital districts the legal authority to transfer health care workers to areas where they were needed most.

Currently, about half of HUSLAB's coronavirus testing staff are on loan from other municipalities across the Uusimaa region. But now that the Emergency Powers Act is no longer in effect, a number of these workers want to return to work in their own municipalities.

This situation has worsened the lab's already challenging staffing problems, according to Lehtonen, but noted that 168 individuals have so far been recruited to work in processing and carrying out coronavirus tests.

As the epidemic spread last spring, the City of Helsinki transferred dozens of health and dental care workers from their normal jobs to help in fighting the outbreak, according to the city's director of health and substance abuse services, Leena Turpeinen.

"Many doctors, dentists, oral hygienists and school health care workers changed jobs to fight the corona epidemic in one way or another," Turpeinen said, but noted that those workers have since returned to their normal jobs.

HUSLAB is discussing with municipalities across Uusimaa to get the needed number of testing workers. Private health care firms are also involved in the negotiations, according to Lehtonen.

He said a comprehensive solution between all parties needs to be reached so that non-coronavirus health care service levels do not suffer in municipalities from which workers are loaned.

Lehtonen said that negotiations on the matter have progressed and that an announcement regarding staffing solutions would be made soon.

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