Health system wait times improve in Sweden

While Sweden’s health system now delivers care to 90 percent of patients within prescribed time limits, social affairs minister Göran Hägglund believes too many Swedes are forced to wait too long for the care they need.

Health system wait times improve in Sweden

According to a new healthcare law which came into effect in July 2010, Swedes should be able to see a doctor within seven days of first visiting a publicly financed health clinic.

In addition, the ‘care guarantee’ (vårdguaranti) stipulates that patients shouldn’t be made to wait more than 90 days to see a specialist and that any prescribed treatment, such as an operation, should be scheduled within 90 days of seeing the specialist.

According to figures presented jointly on Thursday by the government and the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR), 90 percent of patients within the Swedish health system received care in accordance with the care guarantee’s guidelines.

“We’re proud that we’ve started this work in the county councils which has now led to citizens receiving care on time,” Henrik Hammar, the chair of SALAR’s healthcare committee, said in a statement.

Halland Councy in western Sweden showed the best performance, while Dalarna County in central Sweden and Stockholm County had the worst record when it came to ensuring patients didn’t have to wait too long to receive care.

“Wait times continue to decrease. We’ve never had such a large percentage of patients receive care in an appropriate time,” Hägglund said in a statement.

The figures come from measurements taken between January and March, as well as between September and December of last year.

The statistics are also the basis for determining the level of money each county health authority is to receive as a reward for good performance.

As a result of topping the list for 2010, Halland County is set to receive 97 million kronor ($14.5 million), which corresponds to 326 kronor per resident.

Stockholm, which was second worst at keeping health system wait times to a minimum, is set to receive just over 50 million kronor, which corresponds to just 25 kronor per resident.

Hägglund explained that rules for handing out the bonuses in 2011 would be adjusted to take into account the number of patients who receive care within 60 days, rather than the previous time limit of 90 days.

He also encouraged other county health authorities to follow Halland’s lead.

“Then we can continue this positive development,” he told reporters.

Hägglund also singled out Dalarna, the county which showed the least improvement when it came to reducing wait times.

“Dalarna has quite a bit of work to do. It’s up to the county council there to identify what the problems are,” he said.

Despite the encouraging numbers, Hägglund pointed out that the time limits within which patients should receive care in Sweden aren’t especially short when seen from an international perspective.

“We’re not satisfied. There are still too many patients who have to wait way too long,” he said.

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