Government proposes new act on patient ombudspersons and social services ombudspersons
The Government proposes that a new act be enacted on patient ombudspersons and social services ombudspersons. The act would lay down provisions on the organisation of the activities of patient ombudspersons and social services ombudspersons and their independence, qualifications and duties. The act would also include provisions on the processing of personal data.
The current title ‘ombudsman’ would be replaced with the gender-neutral title ‘ombudsperson’, namely ‘patient ombudsperson’ and ‘social services ombudsperson’.
The duties of patient ombudspersons and social services ombudspersons would largely correspond with the current duties of patient and social services ombudsmen. The ombudspersons’ duties would include advising patients, clients and their families, helping them to draw up an objection and issuing information about patient and client rights. In addition, patient and social services ombudspersons would monitor the developments of the rights and position of patients and clients and report these developments annually to the organiser of activities.
All patient and social services ombudsperson activities would be organised as public services
The wellbeing services counties and the City of Helsinki would organise the activities of patient and social services ombudspersons in public and private healthcare and social welfare, occupational healthcare and early childhood education and care. The HUS Group, which is the joint authority for Helsinki and Uusimaa, would organise the activities of patient ombudspersons in the healthcare services it organises and provides.
Private healthcare service providers would no longer organise patient ombudsperson activities in their healthcare units. However, they should continue to inform patients of the possibility to make an objection, process the objections they receive and see to the self-supervision of their services. The aim is to harmonise the activities of patient and social services ombudspersons by centralising the activities in the wellbeing services counties.
The State would organise patient ombudsperson activities in state mental hospitals, healthcare for the Finnish Defence Forces and prison healthcare. The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health would also organise patient ombudsperson activities in the healthcare and medical care services it provides.
The National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health (Valvira) would keep a national register of patient ombudspersons and social services ombudspersons. The Regional State Administrative Agencies and the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health would supervise the activities of patient and social services ombudspersons, just as they do now.
Improving the quality of patient and social services ombudsperson activities
A sufficient number of patient and social services ombudspersons should be appointed so that ombudsperson services would be available to patients and clients in accordance with their needs. As a rule, a person in charge of ombudsperson activities should also be appointed to guide, coordinate and develop the activities. These positions would require a suitable master’s degree and knowledge of the sector in question.
The independence and impartiality of patient ombudspersons and social services ombudspersons should be ensured when they perform their duties. Their independence would be ensured by, for example, organising their activities separately from the duties related to the organisation and provision of healthcare and social welfare.
Each organiser of patient or social services ombudsperson activities would be the controller of documents produced in the course of ombudsperson activities that fall within their responsibility.
The act is scheduled to enter into force on 1 January 2024. The provisions on the documentation and registration of information and the provision on the registration obligation of the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health would apply from 1 January 2025 at the latest. In addition, the transitional provision would ensure that the current patient ombudsmen could continue in their duties, regardless of the new qualification requirements.
Pirjo Kainulainen, Senior Ministerial Adviser, [email protected]