If the number of coronavirus cases doesn't increase and the infection rate begins to drop, it will likely be decided next week to allow scheduled specialist medical care, dental care and private clinic appointments to be restored step by step. Some clinics have already begun doing so on their own initiative.
SA Kõrva-Nina-Kurguhaiguste Kliinik, a private ear-nose-throat (ENT) clinic, posted on its Facebook wall announcing that it is beginning scheduled treatments again and calling on patients to book appointments. The earliest appointment times being offered by the clinic's registration are on Monday, April 20.
Last week, Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise sent the Ministry of Social Affairs a memo explaining that the Health Board did not have the legal authority to get involved in halting private medical care, something that should have been done by the minister of social affairs instead.
Heli Paluste, head of the Health Care Unit at the Ministry of Social Affairs' Health System Development Department, however, said that the order has not been declared void. Thus, the provision of private and specialist medical care remains halted.
"There exists a legal dispute regarding legal bases and format, but I believe that sometime today, or tomorrow at latest, a joint response will be issued by the ministry and the Health Board which will explain on what provisions and considerations the content and level of issue of this order was based," Paluste said. "Jurists are clarifying the legal aspects among themselves, but that does not mean that the order is not in force."
According to the ministry official, preparations are simultaneously underway for the issuing of a new order announcing the loosening of restrictions.
"The decision may come in the first half of next week, if no new sharp increase occurs," she said. "Experts are currently of the opinion that the situation is rather stabilizing, and infection rates are indicating that if no sudden changes occur, then stabilization will likely be followed by a decrease in the number of cases. Everyone is understandably waiting. Patients are waiting, and postponed scheduled activities need addressing too that can't wait much longer."
According to Paluste, meetings were held on Tuesday and Wednesday with representatives of private healthcare regarding exit strategies.
Should the decision come to begin restoring scheduled care step by step, this will be announced at a press conference, after which the decision will essentially take effect immediately, not after a period of time.
The official said that not all private clinics have abided by the ban on scheduled treatment, noting that competition has occasionally informed the ministry of breaches of the ban. Nobody has been punished for not heeding the ban, however.
"The goal is not to punish anyone or implement sanctions," Paluste said. "Rather, we have limited ourselves to additional explanations regarding why this was necessary and why this should be done. We did actually achieve the effect we were going for — the majority of activity was halted, thanks to which large numbers of healthcare workers were freed up as well that volunteered to go help where help was needed. The goal was never to punish individual institutions that perhaps either weren't very well informed or simply decided not to do this."
Editor: Aili Vahtla