Wrangling in government over provision of adequate level of care for the elderly
SDP demands that the elderly care law should include a minimum ratio of caregivers per resident at public old-age facilities, while the National Coalition Party disagrees
On Thursday, the issue of providing enough caregivers for the elderly in public facilities sparked disagreement between the main government coalition parties, the Social Democrats and the National Coalition Party, Kokoomus.
The SDP is demanding that the new law that is being pushed through by Social Democratic Minister of Health and Social Services Maria Guzenina-Richardson should set a legally binding minimum for personnel.
In the SDP view, a mandatory minimum number of care personnel should become binding already when the new legislation takes effect next summer.
”The necessary funding will have to be agreed upon in the budget formation talks”, said Jouni Backman, the Chairman of the Social Democratic Party’s parliamentary group, speaking at the end of the group’s summer meeting in Savonlinna.
The National Coalition Party has adopted a cautious stand on legislation that would set legally binding minimums for personnel, says Minister of Public Administration and Local Government Henna Virkkunen, who is also Vice-Chair of the NCP.
In Virkkunen’s view, legislation that sets a specific number for elderly care personnel would not of itself guarantee good standards for the level of care offered for the elderly.
Virkkunen says that the government will have to look for other ways to take care of the matter.
The issue has met with broad resistance within the National Coalition Party.
On Thursday some members of the party expressed criticism that the staff-sizing issue is in fact the opening gambit of the SDP’s municipal election campaign.
In the National Coalition Party supporters’ opinion, this country cannot afford such binding staff-sizing decisions unless costs are cut elsewhere.
Moreover, such decisions would limit municipalities’ freedom to make their own arrangements on the production of their services.
In a communique she sent on Thursday evening, Minister of Social Affairs and Health Paula Risikko (National Coalition) also questioned the need for a legally binding minimum for personnel.
Prime Minister and NCP Chairman Jyrki Katainen has not yet announced his final stand on the new elderly care law. The party plans to discuss next year’s budget at summer meetings that will commence next week.
For the time being, funds for an extensive elderly care law could be provided in the framework budget of 2015 at the earliest.
According to Minister Guzenina-Richardson, implementing the new elderly care law would cost a total of EUR 144 million per year, half of which would be paid by the government.
Of the total sum, EUR 28 million would be spent on hiring more personnel in order to meet the requirement of the minimum of 0.5 caregivers per resident.
However, Jouni Backman did not define any precise sum of money in Savonlinna, as it would depend on the final content of the new law, on which Backman and Minister of Finance and SDP party leader Jutta Urpilainen refrained from taking a stand.
When it comes to other government parties, the Left Alliance and the Christian Democrats are in favour of legally binding staff-sizing.
On Thursday, Aino-Kaisa Pekonen, Vice-Chair of the Left Alliance, commented to the Finnish news agency STT that the municipalities do not need decision-making powers in such an important matter.
Senior care experts do not necessarily regard the minimum ratio of caregivers as a good solution to the problems faced by the old-age homes and other public facilities.
They say that instead of increasing the number of care personnel, more physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and social instructors would be needed.
Urpilainen promises spending discipline (7.8.2012)