Auditor: Public services outside Harju, Tartu counties need restructuring

Primary school classroom in Estonia.
Primary school classroom in Estonia. Source: Sille Annuk/Postimees/Scanpix

The provision of primary public services outside Harju and Tartu counties needs restructuring due to growing labor shortages, Auditor General Janar Holm has said in the annual report of the National Audit Office.

The annual report examines recruitment and retirement of family doctors, teachers, police officers and rescuers, and concludes that it should be honestly acknowledged that equal and uniform provision of the quality public services throughout the country is beyond us, especially outside Harju County and Tartu County.

The report points out that the number of vacancies is growing and that the people who could fill jobs in key occupations do not seem to be available and Estonia needs to adapt to reality and not engage in self-deception.

"The provision of public services in the periphery needs restructuring and this is due to money, but above all due to the lack of people," Auditor General Janar Holm commented on the main conclusions of the report which were presented to the Riigikogu on Monday.

"If we look at the recruitment of family doctors, teachers, police officers and rescuers, the whole of Estonia, unlike Harju and Tartu counties, is unfortunately in the role of a periphery - the provision of several primary services is at risk simultaneously. We need to ask ourselves what the realistic minimum level of public service provision in these areas will be in the future and how to ensure this. And there is no reason to be too cheerful in Tallinn and Tartu and their surroundings."

Hiiu, Saare and Lääne counties are in the most difficult situation. The report shows that the most problematic of the primary services is family doctor care, as there will soon be more family doctors retiring than those with whom to fill vacancies. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find new good doctors for GP lists, and the number of failed competitions has quadrupled in the last five years.

Almost half of family doctors are 60 years of age or older, meaning they are already of retirement age or can retire sooner if they wish. At present, a family doctor retires at an average age of 67. For example, in Hiiu County, all family doctors are of retirement age or will reach it very soon.

There are lists where a temporary substitute has been working as a family doctor for seven years. Residency graduates often do not want to take responsibility for the list immediately or work away from Tallinn and Tartu.

Auditor general Janar Holm. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

There is a shortage of subject teachers in general education schools, above all nature and science teachers. Teachers often do not want to go to teach outside the larger centers, and more than a third of Estonian teachers are over the age of 55 and are currently of retirement age or will reach it within the next 10 years.

There is a wave of retirement among rescuer workers and police officers, and at the same time, there are more enough people who would like to do these jobs.

According to the estimates of the Police and Border Guard Board, approximately 350-400 more police officers will leave the service by 2030 then will come to the Academy of Internal Affairs.

Due to the turnover of labor, it will soon be necessary to find more than 100 rescuer workers a year, but there are half as many people who want to or are suitable to work in the profession rescuers, approximately 50-55 a year. Thus, a sharp shortage of labor can be predicted in five to 10 years, especially for rescuer workers.

Holm admits that it is not easy to find a way out of this situation because different sectors compete for people and training and retraining takes time.

Relief can be provided by a combination of different steps - one way is to create new incentives to attract young people or workers who want to change careers.

"To some extent, existing employees can be kept in employment longer, their qualifications can be developed and, if possible, they can be offered jobs in other positions," Holm explained. "In addition, the state can introduce various innovations offered by technical, technological and social innovation to reduce the need for labor. It is possible to increase the share of volunteers up to a certain limit, but it is difficult to imagine that one should go to a hobby family doctor."

At the same time, Holm emphasized that continuing is not a solution. "Realistic requirements must be set for the quality and availability of services, trying to find a balance between the country's capabilities and people's expectations. However, it is possible that these forms of service, which are currently considered temporary - for example, distance learning at school, remote counseling in family medicine, etc. - will become permanent in some regions. And it should be seen as an opportunity, not just a problem."


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Editor: Helen Wright

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