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Report: Fragmentation weakening the Finnish healthcare system

While gender inequalities in health services have reduced, there are still significant regional disparities.

Opastekylttejä Kiihtelysvaaran terveysasemalla.
A sign at the Kiihtelysvaara health centre in eastern Finland. The report states that eastern Finland is one of the areas that suffers due to regional disparities in the healthcare system. Image: Ismo Pekkarinen / AOP

A new report by the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies has found that the fragmented nature of the Finnish healthcare system is adversely affecting the overall quality of its services.

The report was assembled in collaboration with the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and Tampere University as part of a series of country-specific assessments of healthcare systems across Europe and forms the basis for a broader study of the region.

According to the authors, Finland's healthcare system is highly decentralised, with healthcare services organised by municipalities with varying levels of resources and funded by multiple sources. This makes it difficult to manage the system and its associated costs.

Healthcare in Finland is otherwise fairly efficient, according to the study, with users reporting relatively high levels of satisfaction with the quality of services.

"Healthcare in Finland works well compared to other countries in Europe. The system has undergone significant development in the past few years: primary healthcare has been strengthened and for example the cost of medicines has been reduced," Director of the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies Josep Figueras said in a press release.

Northern, eastern and central Finland are the worst off

The report noted that while there has been a decline in gender-based and socioeconomic inequalities in Finland’s healthcare system, they still remain significant. There are also regional disparities in the country, with patients in the northern, eastern and central regions affected the most.

It was also pointed out that Finland spends less money per capita on healthcare than other countries studied, including the other Nordic countries, the UK and the Netherlands.

Out-of-pocket payments account for approximately one fifth of total health expenditure, with Finns spending substantial amounts on prescription drugs. Private spending on prescription drugs amounts to one third of all pharmaceutical expenditure in Finland.

Additionally, in some health centres, patients with non-emergency cases have to wait in a queue for a few weeks to see a doctor. "Waiting lists, patient fees and the fragmentation of the system require attention," Figueras said.

The report was released on Thursday in conjunction with the ongoing meeting of senior healthcare officials hosted by the Finnish EU presidency in Helsinki. The last report on the Finnish healthcare system was published in 2008.

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