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Statutory Care Guarantee time limits will change on 1 September

The Statutory Care Guarantee, i.e., the law on access to primary healthcare, will become stricter at the beginning of September. Measures to shorten waiting times and improve service availability are continuing.

From the beginning of September, non-urgent primary healthcare must be accessed within fourteen days of the first contact, that is, in practice, a call to the Customer Service Centre of the Wellbeing Services County of Ostrobothnia. In future, the maximum time for access to treatment in dental healthcare will be four months.

An assessment of the need for treatment must be received on the same weekday when the patient has taken contact to the healthcare service.

– In primary healthcare, we have almost reached the previous limit of getting treatment within three months. However, it is a fact that at the very beginning of September we will not reach this two-week time limit. Our goal is of course to reach the two-week target. Urgent care is offered without delay, says Sofia Svartsjö, director of health and social services.

In dental healthcare, waiting times have been more challenging than in primary healthcare.

– Waiting times for non-urgent treatment have varied in different locations for a long time. They have been 15 months long at their worst and a month long at their best. The wellbeing services county reform has not affected waiting times much, says Chief Dentist Hanna Kangasmaa.

The reason for the change in the law is an effort to prevent the accumulation and prolongation of patients’ problems and to reduce the need for special level services by speeding up access to treatment. However, there is great pressure to economise in the wellbeing services county, and there is no financial support from the state for the practical implementation of the legislative reform.

– Our professionals have done everything they can -and are still doing- to ensure that patients get treatment, Kangasmaa explains.


New working methods quickly implemented

Changing the statutory time limit will not eliminate waiting times, because the amount of nursing staff available has not increased. The shortage of nurses and doctors has moved from the municipalities to the wellbeing services county.

– However, as a wellbeing services county, we are better able to influence waiting times. In primary healthcare, the development work continues. We are developing the working methods of all our professionals and will introduce new digital tools, for example, in order to be able to contact and assess the need for treatment, says Svartsjö.

Svartsjö wants to remind everyone that as an alternative to calling the Customer Service Centre, the Omaolo service, for example, is already in use, through which it is possible to make symptom assessments and get in touch with a healthcare professional. The service will expand to new municipalities during the rest of the year, and Svartsjö hopes that more and more people will be encouraged to try the Omaolo service.

The aim is to quickly incorporate various development and pilot projects -to improve access to treatment and shorten waiting times- as part of standard operating practice. One example is the Senior Line, which was piloted in Vaasa and Laihia in the spring and will be expanded to serve all seniors in Ostrobothnia on 4 September.

Queue one time for treatment

In addition to staff shortages and recruitment challenges, the medical debt accumulated from the coronavirus era continues to burden dental healthcare, and Kangasmaa states that the four-month waiting list required by legislation will not be achieved this year.

Waiting times for treatment have been shortened by our own staff doing additional work, which will continue. The missing workforce has been acquired as an outsourced service.

– We have received project funding, and with that we can, as a specific measure, acquire an outsourced service specifically to shorten the queues. The use of service vouchers will also start at the end of August.

The management of waiting times has been developed by creating uniform dental healthcare criteria for queuing, so that people don’t queue too early and, on the other hand, no one is queuing just to be sure they will have a time in the future. As in primary healthcare nursing, working methods have been unified in dental healthcare as well, so that dentists can free up as many appointment times as possible to treat waiting patients.

– Now in the autumn, a new procedural method is being piloted in Vaasa, where waiting patients are given as much treatment as necessary in one visit, says Kangasmaa.

Up-to-date information on waiting times published online

The new legislation obliges the wellbeing services counties to also report their waiting times to the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), which publishes the information on its website.

Of course, the waiting times were already monitored before the reform.

– Compiling statistics still requires a lot of manual work from us, when we use several different customer and patient information systems, says Kangasmaa.

Information on waiting times is also published on the wellbeing services county website (in Finnish and Swedish).

Statutory Care Guarantee in a nutshell

From 1 September 2023, the Statutory Care Guarantee for non-urgent treatment is 14 days in primary healthcare and four months in dental healthcare.

The tightened Statutory Care Guarantee applies to illness, injuries, worsening of a long-term illness, new symptoms or reduced functional capacity. The Statutory Care Guarantee applies to both physical and mental health problems.

The need for treatment must be assessed during the same weekday when the patient contacts the healthcare unit. A healthcare professional must make an evaluation of the need or urgency to see the patient or provide treatment, as well as which treatment or examinations the healthcare professional needs to provide.

Access to treatment can be, for example, a visit to a nurse, doctor or other healthcare professional, a remote visit or a telephone consultation.

The change applies to basic healthcare organised by the wellbeing services counties, student healthcare for students of higher education arranged by Kela and the Finnish Student Health Service (YTHS), and prison healthcare services organised by the Prison Health Care Unit under THL.