New health minister calls for caution on proposed state agencies merger

New Minister for Health and Labor Peep Peterson (SDE).
New Minister for Health and Labor Peep Peterson (SDE). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Newly-appointed Minister for Health and Labor Peep Peterson has urged caution in the formation of a one single, large state agency to cover the tasks currently carried out by three.

The proposal would see the merger of the Labor Inspectorate (Tööinspektsioon), the State Agency of Medicines (Raviamet) and the Health Board (Terviseamet), and may also have pointed the way to the merger of other state agencies.

Peterson, who had been leader of the Confederation of Trade Unions (Ametiühingute keskliit) , told ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) that: "The social partners must have heard on June 28 or even on June 22 that they want to enter into government from July 1 already, and everything had already been decided, but this kind of haste does not suit us."

The process has accordingly been slowed down.

"Naturally we are interested in getting well-functioning tax boards and well-functioning unemployment fund boards, and we are working towards that goal, but we will not say yes [to a merged board] too rapidly, while certainly such a scientific competence center as the TAI (the National Institute for Health Development – ed.) must remain intact."

"We will have to see if the labor inspectorate and the state agency of medicines can also cooperate with each other, if some functions can be shared," Peterson said.

The decision, made by the social affairs ministry, to merge the organizations came as a surprise to trade unions and employers' representatives alike, ERR reports.

While the initial plan, announced y social affairs ministry secretary general Maarjo Mändmaa, had been to merge the TAI, which deals with research and prevention work, with the Health Board and the State Agency of Medicines, into one body, at the end of June, the Labor Inspectorate learned that they, too, had been added into the mix, on the rationale that there had been changes in leadership, while the topics in focus were related, Mändmaa said.

It would also lead to efficiency gains, she said. "These dealings being carried out by separate institutions goes beyond all common sense."

The proposed merger would have involved quick changes being made over autumn, with a state body comprising close to 600 officials starting work around a year after that process started.

Meeli Miidla-Vanatalu, director general of the Labor Inspectorate, said that the decisions had been made carefully and with the involvement of stakeholders, ie. organizations representing both employers and employees

Birgit Lao, who was appointed Health Board chief in May and was earmarked to head up the new, merged body, was unavailable for comment on the issue.

The Health Board was in the thick of it throughout the Covid pandemic and saw two changes of leadership during that time.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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