Finland has a law on patients’ rights and status. This law applies to public health care in its entirety as well as health care services provided by social welfare institutions.
The main aspects of the law are:
- The patient's consent is required for treatment.
- The patient is given information on his/her health and treatment including what the treatment entails, any related risks and alternative treatment options.
- If the patient has to wait for treatment, he/she must be informed of the reason for this and the expected waiting time.
- Patients dissatisfied with their care can lodge an objection with the health care institution or make a complaint to the supervisory authority for health care.
- The health care institution must have a patient ombudsman whose task is to provide assistance to the patient.
Each person living in Finland has a right to receive health care and medical treatment necessitated by his/her state of health within the scope of the resources available. In Finland the municipalities are responsible for arranging public health care and their obligations are defined in the relevant legislation.
The patient has a right to good medical care and treatment. Treatment must be so arranged that it does not infringe the patient's human dignity, conviction or privacy. The patient's mother tongue, culture and personal needs must be respected as far as possible. When caring for child patients, the needs of the rest of the family must also be considered.
Consent and mutual understanding
Treatment decisions must be made in mutual understanding with the patient. If the patient refuses treatment or any particular procedure, agreement on another treatment method should be pursued. The patient can also refuse all treatment.
In the case of minor treatment, the patient's seeking treatment can be regarded as consent. Generally, however, the patient's consent must be established by talking with him/her.
When establishing facts related to the patient's treatment, personnel must make sure that information concerning the patient is not revealed to any third persons. Information concerning treatment must not be given to the patient, if he/she does not wish to know it.
When the life or health of an unconscious person is endangered, the required treatment is given, even though the patient's volition cannot be established. If the patient has signed a living will, and there is no reason to assume that it has expired, for example, and that the patient has changed his/her mind, then action must be taken in accordance with the living will. A patient may also make a separate living will, however, in which he/she permits the release of patient data indicated by the ban, for instance when he/she is unconscious and in need of immediate treatment. In unclear cases nursing personnel must discuss the matter with the patient's relatives or close persons.
In the case of an incompetent person, enforcement of the living will must be discussed with close persons.
By means of a trustee authorisation a person can arrange in advance how his/her affairs are to be managed in case he/she subsequently becomes incapable of managing his/her own affairs due to illness or weakened health, for example.
More information on trustee authorisations and how to make them can be found on the website of the Ministry of Justice.
Treatment of underage children
When caring for a child patient, his/her opinion must be taken into account whenever possible with regard to his/her age and level of development. If an underage child, based on his/her age and level of development, is capable of deciding on his/her care, he/she must be cared for in mutual understanding. An underage child also has the right to refuse to give information about his/her state of health and treatment to parents/guardians or other close persons. If the child is too young to express his/her own opinion, he/she must be cared for in mutual understanding with the parents or guardian.
A doctor or other professionals shall assess the level of development of the child or young person with regard to treatment issues.
The law also protects an underage patient in such a manner that his/her parents or guardian do not have a right to prohibit treatment that is necessary to prevent danger that threatens the life or health of an underage patient.