Minister: healthcare guarantee ‘not working’

Health Minister Göran Hägglund has criticized the lack of progress made toward shortening wait times in Sweden’s health system.

He made the comments in an opinion article published in Dagens Nyheter in which he stated that the 250 million kronor spent by the government on lowering wait times has apparently had a little effect.

The criticism comes in response to a report by the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) showing that nearly 45 percent of patients have longer wait times than are supposedly guaranteed by the healthcare system.

“These figures are not satisfactory. They show that we haven’t approached the problem of availability with the level of force needed,” said Hägglund to news agency TT.

Since 2005, Sweden’s health system has been governed by a “healthcare guarantee” (Vårdgarantin) between the national and regional governments. The guarantee states that county councils, which have primary responsibility for healthcare administration, promise to treat patients within 90 days.

If treatment cannot be administered by the patient’s primary hospital within 90 days, the county is to then help the patient find an alternative location within the county or even recommend the patient to a hospital in another county.

Wait times for service were also found to vary greatly from one county to another.

In Jämtland county, for example, four out of ten patients couldn’t even get through to their local clinic by telephone on the day they become ill.

Hägglund asserted that people are generally satisfied with the care provided—when the receive it.

“But the wait to receive attention—be it a telephone call to a local clinic or a first visit to a physician—is simply too long,” he said.

Hägglund concludes that the voluntary guarantee provided by county councils isn’t good enough, and suggested that a guarantee mandated by legislation may be required.

“County councils do a shabby job of informing patients of the fact that they can travel to another county [for care],” said Hägglund.

“I believe that any new legislation will take the question of [care] availability into account.”

Another measure may be creating a ranking system for county health systems, in hopes that counties would be motivated to not end up last in the rankings.