|www.helsinginsanomat.fi/english||print | close window|
Funding dispute threatens to ground rapid response emergency helicopters
At the beginning of July, four of Finland's rapid response helicopters are under threat of being closed down owing to an argument over funding arrangements. Only the Vantaa and Turku MediHeli choppers would continue flights.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has proposed reforms to the funding of rapid response helicopter services so that the hospital districts would have to finance the medical operations of the helicopters, including the doctors' salaries, medical supplies, and equipment.
The major part of the rescue helicopters' expenses would be provided in the future, as is the case at present, by Finland's Slot Machine Association (RAY).
The aim of the reform is to protect rescue helicopter services against future financial threats.
However, the ambulance helicopter services are now specifically under threat, because not all hospital districts are willing to contribute to the helicopters' medical expenses.
The hospital districts will have to answer by the beginning of June whether they are prepared to participate in the financing of the ambulance helicopters in their particular area. If they refuse, the support of the State-owned RAY will be withdrawn.
So far, only the hospital district of South-West Finland has given a positive answer. The Board of Finland's largest hospital district HUS (Helsinki and Uusimaa) is expected to reach a similar decision next Monday.
The hospital districts of Pirkanmaa and North Ostrobothnia have already decided not to participate, and the Northern Savo hospital district is likely to give a negative answer today.
According to the Minister of Social Affairs and Health, Sinikka Mönkäre, this means that these hospital districts do not regard MediHeli services as necessary.
However, the hospital districts in Northern Finland disagree. "The closing down of helicopter services would have real adverse effects, particularly in Northern Ostrobothnia and Lapland", said Pentti Silvola of the North Ostrobothnia hospital district.
Consequently, the hospital district intends to appeal to the ministry in order to get the funding reform reversed. However, Minister Mönkäre confirms that the government will not change its decision as there are no extra funds available for this purpose.
In Pirkanmaa and Northern Savo, helicopter services are not regarded as necessary. "With the same amount of money, we would be able to buy many ambulances", commented Matti Pulkkinen of the Northern Savo hospital district.
"If the support from RAY is withdrawn, all rapid response helicopter services will be closed down in Finland. Politically, this is such a big issue that I do not believe that it will happen", said Lars-Eric Östergård of the rescue helicopters' support association in Ostrobothnia.
A helicopter pilot, doctor, and paramedic assistant are on duty 24 hours a day with a three-minute callout time from their bases.
The Vantaa MediHeli chopper is in action an average of six times a day, and MediHeli 02 in Turku makes an average of five flights each day.