If we want to offer Nordic-level health services to the Finnish population, funding for those services should be raised to a Nordic level, Lasse Lehtonen, Director of the Diagnostics division at Helsinki University Hospital explains.
The central objectives of health and social services reform will be to reduce inequalities in health and wellbeing and to safeguard equal and quality health and social services for all.
According to Lasse Lehtosen Director of the Diagnostics division at HUS, this will not be possible unless more money is allocated to production of health care services.
Last year, Finland spent 9.2 percent of its national product on health care. That is 10 to 15 percent less than what other Nordic countries spend, he points out.
An aging population has a growing need for services. Lehtonen therefore hopes that the discussion in Finland will centre around increasing health care funding rather than around decreasing it.
Currently, our health care expenditure’s share of the national product is at the same level as in Romania and Lithuania, and the Ministry of Finance would like to reduce it even further still. It raises the question of whether we want to belong to the Nordic or the Eastern European framework, says Lehtonen critically.
Differences in health have not decreased
Finland’s particular source of concern is notably large differences in health within the population.
The difference in life expectancy between the poorest and wealthiest Finns is 5.6 years for women and 10.6 years for men. That is how much longer on average the highest earning tenth of the population lives compared to the lowest earning tenth.
There are also challenges in terms of availability of primary medical services. Finland still has less doctors per citizen than other European countries on average, even though education for doctors has increased.
According to Lehtonen, Finland has not allocated enough resources to health care in recent years. The population has aged and treatment of diseases has become more complex, yet the state has significantly cut municipalities’ funding at the same time.
When public health care deteriorates, people increasingly buy services with their own money – if they can afford it.
It is likely that a large part of the differences in health between the population may be due to the fact that some can afford to buy these services and get private health insurance, while others just have to get by using the public service system, says Lehtonen.
Services have to be centralised
Diagnostics currently make up approximately ten percent of public health care costs. New technology, particularly more demanding and labour-intensive imaging tests add to increasing pressure for growth.
According to Lehtonen, Finland does not have enough skilled professionals for every hospital that would need modern imaging services.
We inevitably have to reconsider our service system and centralise some services to university hospitals, he says.
The diagnostics division at HUS led by Lehtonen began its work this year. Its goals are to strengthen the role of diagnostics, to increase synergy between imaging and laboratories and also to produce more health benefits from existing resources.
We must offer clinicians information in a more refined form. For example, genetic information should be connected to a patient’s other diagnostic information in order for the overall assessment to be meaningful for the doctor.
At the same time, HUS wants to offer diagnostics services more comprehensively to its specific catchment area as a whole.
Diagnostics is one part of the comprehensive treatment of patients. We should avoid partial improvements where diagnostics are removed from the rest of the treatment path, Lehtonen emphasises.