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Monday's papers: Daycare worker and doctor shortage, party funding hike slammed

Measures to attract more early childhood education professionals and doctors to the public sector and more in today's review.

Lapsia istuu ringissä päiväkodin lattialla päiväkodin opettajan edessä.
Daycares in Finland are plagued by teacher shortages and high employee turnover. Image: YLE

Helsingin Sanomat starts the week with a story on the severe shortage of early childhood education professionals, as hundreds of vacancies remain unfilled throughout the country. The paper says it previously reported back in 2017 that insufficient salaries in the field had prompted 40 percent of daycare and kindergarten staff to consider changing occupations.

HS writes that municipalities in Finland have since done little to remedy the problem. It mentions that in 2018, the cities in the capital region were accused of reaching an under-the-table agreement to keep salaries low, a claim that municipal employers denied. The cities of Helsinki, Espoo and Vantaa nevertheless decided that autumn to raise early childhood education salaries by between 145 and 175 euros per month, to around 2,600 euros.

This small increase has not attracted more workers, HS says, and the dearth of trained teachers continues. Vantaa's HR director Kirsi-Marja Lievonen tells the paper that the city was looking to hire 150 early childhood education teachers and 50 childcare professionals last spring.

An OAJ teachers' union expert Kirsi Sutton tells the paper that the situation won't improve until the number of early childhood education study places is increased at Finland's universities. Increases have already been made for the period 2018-2021, but Sutton tells the paper they will not be enough.

A reform to Finland's early childhood education laws which came into effect in 2018 did not help with the shortfall, HS reports, as it requires two-thirds of all daycare personnel to be graduates of higher education programmes in early childhood education or social services by the year 2030.

The city of Helsinki predicts that it will need to recruit 1,680 new teachers by that time to meet the requirement.

A promise of more doctors

Turku-based Turun Sanomat features an interview with social services minister Krista Kiuru, who addresses another labour market insufficiency: the lack of doctors at Finland's network of public health centres.

She rejects recent rumours that have circulated about forcing medical doctor graduates to start work at clinics to solve the problem, saying the government prefers softer methods and has already earmarked money to hire 1,000 new physicians in the sector.

"We have to make work at health centres so attractive that it will entice doctors to work there. Coercion is not the solution, as we have to convince them to stay for a longer period," she says.

The influx of new doctors is intended to help reach the government's new "care guarantee" target, whereby patients with a complaint that is not considered acute would be guaranteed a doctor's appointment within a week of their initial consultation.

"We will use state money to do away with long waits […] and collect best practices from different areas before the 'sote' reform is enacted," Kiuru tells the paper.

The training and recruiting of 1,000 new doctors will cost the Finnish state approximately 100 million euros. The government has appropriated 160 million euros in 2019-2022 for new hires and overall development of the health centre network.

Hannu Haila, deputy chair of Finland's doctors' association, tells TS that in his view, Finland has plenty of doctors, but too many of them are employed in private health care companies.

"Public health care centres are under-resourced, and this is one reason people don't dare to go work there. If the working conditions were better, they wouldn't have such a hard time filling the positions," he says.

Opposition slams planned party funding increase

Oulu-based Kaleva carries a report on opposition party reaction to preliminary government budget plans to increase political party funding by six million euros, or 20 percent.

The news agency Lännen Media called around to the different parties to ask how they were planning to use the extra money. Representatives of the Social Democrats and Greens said they were planning to "improve young people's ability to have an influence" and strengthen skills at electoral districts.

The Finns Party said it was not very happy about the news, as "too much taxpayers' money is already used to support political activity", Kaleva writes.

"The increase is clearly a government ploy to give the Centre Party a leg-up, as its finances collapsed after its loss of election support," the nationalist party's secretary Simo Grönroos told the paper.

The Christian Democrats agreed with their partners in the opposition.

"Some kind of small increase would have surely been necessary, but one like this is beyond reasonable," says the party secretary Asmo Maanselkä.

The Centre Party says it doesn't have any specific plans yet for how to use the added funds, choosing not to comment on the party's financial situation.

"Political parties offer voters the opportunity to influence the political agenda. This is recognised as an important goal in Finland. The needs of the individual parties and a possible increase to party support are both secondary in comparison to this," the Centre Party secretary Riikka Pirkkalainen tells the paper.

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