Kirsi Varhila: Follow-up and treatment of chronic diseases should not be postponed despite the coronavirus outbreak
For the time being, the Finnish healthcare and social welfare system has been able to withstand the pressure caused by the coronavirus epidemic, says Kirsi Varhila, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. Varhila provided an account of the current coronavirus situation to the Social Affairs and Health Committee of the Finnish Parliament on 28 April.
According to Varhila, what is more worrying than the adequacy of intensive care capacity at the moment is the ability of our healthcare and social welfare system to respond to service needs other than those associated with the coronavirus.
“Researchers all around the world are working hard to develop a coronavirus vaccine. Regardless of these efforts, it will take a long time to come up with a vaccine. Before that, we must be able to meet the need for other services in society. We must pay special attention to the situation of the most vulnerable people,” Varhila emphasises.
These concerns emerged after a marked decrease was noticed in appointments in primary healthcare and specialised medical care during the pandemic. The situation is different in different parts of Finland.
“The decrease in appointments is caused by two things: Firstly, non-urgent appointments in primary healthcare and specialised medical care have been cancelled. Secondly, patients have cancelled appointments scheduled for them. Similarly, people have cancelled appointments to cancer screenings,” Varhila notes.
“Fewer and more infrequent appointments will result in a failure to sufficiently treat and follow up many chronic diseases such as cardiac diseases and diabetes. This may result in delays in starting treatment, and in deterioration of the disease and prognosis. In specialised medical care, cancellation of appointments will cause longer waiting lists for non-urgent surgeries in the autumn,” Varhila points out.
“Although we now live in emergency conditions and the coronavirus scares people, it is important to adhere to good care and the prevention of other diseases. People with chronic diseases must have access to treatment. I encourage everyone to attend their scheduled appointments,” Varhila says.
Both in primary healthcare and in specialised medical care, some appointments have been replaced by remote services. An increase in the use of remote services has not fully compensated for the decrease in appointments.
Non-urgent services are now being scaled up, and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is monitoring the situation closely.
Kirsi Varhila, Permanent Secretary [email protected]