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Health and social services reform will not be fulfilled without the third sector and volunteers

Author: Katrina Harjuhahto-Madetoja Translation: Jenni Mäkelä

Health and social services reform has been recorded in many government programmes but thus far progress has been deterred by the Constitution of Finland. The current government has included the health and social services reform to be a part of the regional government reform, in which the responsibility for health and social services is assigned to counties, along with rescue services and regional development duties among others.

The main goals of the ongoing health and social services reform and regional government reform are as follows: increasing the freedom of choice for clients, reducing inequities in health and wellbeing, and managing costs by the year 2030. Although the responsibility for providing health and social services is assigned from municipalities to counties, municipalities still have the important responsibility of promoting the health and wellbeing of their residents.

The freedom of choice for clients, one of the main principles of the health and social services reform, is meant to be implemented by using service vouchers and personal budgeting among other means. These would enable third sector health care providers to function along with the private and public sector.

The public, and political, discussion revolving around the reform has mainly focused on health care. However, I claim that national health is not primarily promoted in hospitals, health centres or at the doctor’s office. It is promoted by pre-emptive action; action that would enable every citizen to feel like an important, unique individual whose life matters. Action that would include peer support, help and assistance in everyday life, outside the office hours. Action that enables participation and a feeling of belonging in the community and society.

For these reasons, the health and social services reform cannot be realized without the involvement of the third sector and volunteer action. Us volunteers have a particular significance in enhancing the wellbeing and health of residents and citizens.

Local services and volunteer work need to be connected; low threshold drop-in centres need to offer information about volunteer work for both those who need it and for those who are interested in it. Municipalities and counties need to offer spaces for volunteer work, whether it’s a library, gym or at schools during the evenings.

Public administration, counties and municipalities need to continue allocating funds for third sector actors. This can partly be secured by the persons of trust in local and county councils.

Volunteer work can complement the work health and social care workers do in hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living homes. It can relate to societal participation or leisure activities. It can be making art, memory support or just spending time together with the residents. This helps to maintain and improve people’s mental health and ability to function.

We need to involve more young people and immigrants into volunteer work. This is not possible without new operational models and making the most of digitalisation. The amount of young people involved in volunteer work has decreased in the 21th century, but this is not due to the attitudes of young people. Volunteer work is integration at its best. Citizen forum does important work in order to achieve these aims.

I have been involved in volunteer work as a support person, support family member and a mediator of offences and disputes since the early 90s. In the past few years I have promoted volunteer work in the Töölö parish council and in my current job in the Eteva federation of municipalities. For example, in The Finnish Business School Graduates Society we made a decision to allow employees to spend one work day a year doing volunteer work, so I know what I’m talking about. There is strength in us volunteers, and that strength will be needed in order for the health and social services reform to achieve its goals.

Katrina (Kati) Harjuhahto-Madetoja
The author is CEO at Eteva Kuntayhtymä and an active volunteer.

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