Health and social services
Social welfare and health care is the most extensive local government function and a central part of the Finnish system of welfare services. The right to social welfare and health services is a basic and fundamental right of the whole population. Local authorities are responsible for performing the social welfare and health services laid down for them by law. They may provide the services either alone or secure them from other organisations or private sector providers.
The health services are financed through taxes, and only moderate client fees are charged for visits to health centres and for stays in hospital. The Finnish health service system has proved to be cost-efficient and of high quality, and it enjoys wide public support.
In Finland, social services and health care are being developed largely as a single entity. Municipal public-health work is the foundation of the Finnish health system.
Local authorities provide primary health care. They run 150 health centres, 87 of which are municipal health centres and the rest belong to joint municipal authorities, which are established by two or more municipalities.
In Finland, preventive health care has an important role. The services of prenatal clinics and child health clinics, for instance, are available free of charge to all families. All mothers of newborn babies receive a maternity package or its value in money. Environmental health care is regarded as part of basic health care.
Alongside municipal health care, there is an occupational health service system financed by employers and the State, which is responsible for much of the health care for the workforce. There is also a relatively extensive system of private medical services, partly financed by the sickness insurance system.
Hospitals run by joint municipal authorities
Hospitals run by joint municipal authorities provide 95 per cent of all specialist medical care; the remaining 5 per cent is provided by the private sector. Every local authority is required by law to be a member of a joint municipal authority administering a hospital district. There are 20 hospital districts in all.
Medical advances and growing skills demands together with increasingly limited resources have increased the need for cooperation and division of responsibilities between hospital districts. There will be a reform of emergency services, which means that in future, 12 hospital districts will offer extensive round-the-clock emergency services, that is, joint primary care and specialised medical care emergency services, which cover 10 to 12 medical specialities. The other hospital districts will offer treatment for the most common illnesses and joint round-the-clock primary care and specialised medical care emergency services spanning the most important medical specialities. It is also the intention to concentrate demanding elective treatments in fewer hospitals. Health centres will arrange emergency reception on week nights and at weekends during the daytime.
Waiting-time guarantee ensures access to health care services
Finland has a system of waiting-time guarantee, which ensures that patients are able to reach a health centre without delay during weekday office hours. In practice, this means service and guidance by telephone. The need for treatment is assessed within three days from when the patient first contacted the health centre. Any treatment found to be necessary must be started according to the urgency of the illness, but within three months at the latest.
The need for hospital treatment must be assessed within three weeks. The evaluation may be based on a referral, or the patient may be asked to come to the hospital for an assessment. If a physician decides that the patient needs hospital care, treatment must be provided within six months.
A patient can reach a health centre without delay in cases involving oral health care as well. Treatment must be arranged within reasonable time and in any case within six months.
Health and social services reform
The Finnish Government has prepared a reform in health care and social welfare that will see the responsibility for the organisation of health services transferred from municipalities to 18 new counties as of 1 January 2020. The counties will have a better economic capacity than a single municipality. The reform aims to ensure more equal availability of services to all people, to provide integrated, client-centred health and social services and to give more freedom of choice for citizens. It also seeks to slow expenditure growth and substantially reduce the sustainability gap by 2030.
The Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities is supporting municipalities in their efforts to improve the productivity and effectiveness of the service system and develop operations that promote general health and well-being. The Association provides assistance to municipalities in preparing for and implementing the health and social services reform.
For up-to-date information on the reform, please see the Health, social services and regional government reform website maintained by the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.
Services for foreigners
Everyone who is staying in Finland has a right to emergency health care. Emergency medical care must be provided for patients who need it regardless of their place of residence. Urgent cases include cases involving an injury, a sudden onset of an illness, an exacerbation of a long-term illness, or a deterioration of functional ability where immediate intervention is required and where treatment cannot be postponed without risking the worsening of the condition or further injury.
Social emergency services must provide clients with urgent and necessary help as referred to in Section 29 of the Finnish Social Welfare Act. In urgent cases, the social emergency services must contribute to arranging the necessary psychosocial support.
The citizens of EU Member States have the right to seek treatment in Finland, as laid down in the Directive on the application of patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare. Please check the implementation of the Directive in your home country.
Seeking treatment abroad
According to the Act on Cross-Border Health Care, Finnish residents have a right to seek treatment in another EU or EEA country or in Switzerland. You are free to seek and use healthcare services abroad. You can seek services of both primary healthcare and specialised medical care and you can also receive treatment for a chronic condition.