Finnish hospitals may start treating Covid-critical Estonian patients

Tartu University Hospital, which recently was treating almost as many coronavirus intensive care patients as were being treated in the whole of Finland.
Tartu University Hospital, which recently was treating almost as many coronavirus intensive care patients as were being treated in the whole of Finland. Source: Jassu Hertsmann / Ministry of Social Affairs.

Coronavirus patients in the most severe condition may soon start to be transported to Finland for treatment there, news portal Delfi reports as Estonia's healthcare system continues to be stretched to its limits amid soaring Covid rates. The numbers of patients being talked about at this stage are small, however, just about reaching into double figures.

The University of Tartu Hospital has already started talks with university hospitals in Finland, whose readiness in being able to accommodate Estonian coronavirus patients is being evaluated, while the idea had already hit the desks of the social affairs ministries of both countries some days ago, Delfi reports (link in Estonian).

Conversations between medical staff in both countries – large numbers of Estonians are employed in Finland's healthcare sector, with doctors often attracted by higher salaries and more effective and transparent management – had been going on for some time even before that,  University of Tartu professor Joel Starkopf said.

"This co-operation was born of the sympathetic attitude of Finnish colleagues and the reaching out, Starkopf went on.

Spokesperson for Finland's social affairs and health ministry Pekka Tulokas confirmed to Delfi that the coronavirus picture in Estonia is closely monitored in his country, while: "Both Estonian and Finnish intensive care doctors are currently regularly monitoring the situation of hospitals and intensive care workloads in both states," stressing that any opportunities for trans-Gulf-of-Finland cooperation are still at preparation stage.

Joel Starkopf told Delfi that the costs of treatment of patients being sent across the gulf would be covered by the Estonian state, which is obliged to provide medical care for its residents.

Liisa-Maria Voipio-Pulkki, another Finnish social ministry spokesperson, also confirmed at a press conference Thursday that Finland was in talks with Estonia on resolving the issue.

Quoting Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat, Delfi writes that Voipio-Pulkki said: "According to the information I have, the matter has been discussed by the treatment areas at our university hospitals, though no final decisions have been made yet."

Joel Starkopf illustrated the situation by noting that a few days previously, whereas there had been 27 Covid patients in Finland nationwide, there were nearly as many, 24, in the same predicament at the Tartu University Hospital alone, while preparation for the situation two or three weeks from now was still more critical.

Urmas Sule, chief doctor at the Estonian Health Board (Terviseamet) also confirmed the bilateral discussions for cooperation were ongoing and that there was a mutual will for cooperation – at the same time stressing that the measures would be additional help for the most complicated Covid cases and not some panacea for rescuing the entire nation from the coronavirus.

Lines of communication remain open between the two countries' health ministries, Defli reports, while the theoretical discussions may become actual in a time frame measurable by weeks, and, Joel Starkopf said, at a level of around 5-10 patients overall, so one or two patients per hospital in Finland.

The original Delfi article (in Estonian) is here.

Relations between the two countries have been somewhat strained, at least from the Estonian side, during the pandemic, with Finland's strict coronavirus travel entry requirements in particular being dismissed as cynical and egotistical, and even leading to summonsing by Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) of Finland's ambassador to Estonia back in June.

Kallas has made three official visits to Estonia's northern neighbor since entering office in January, and has received receptions which might fairly be described as cool on the part of her Finnish counterpart, Sanna Marin, each time.

As of Wednesday this week, 610 coronavirus patients were hospitalized due to Covid, breaching the 600-mark which the Health Board had earlier called a crisis point. Over 50 patients are currently in intensive care.

Triaging patients has also been discussed, though the prime minister said Thursday that this was a matter for the healthcare system and not a political decision to be made.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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