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The legal framework for health policy is set by the Constitution of Finland, the Act on the Promotion of Sports and Physical Activity, the Local Government Act, the Youth Act, the Health Care Act, the Student and Pupil Welfare Act (in Finnish) and relevant decrees issued by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. The Health Care Act promotes and maintains the population’s health and welfare, work ability and functional capacity and social security. It also:
- reduces health inequalities between different population groups
- ensures universal access to the services required by the population and improves quality and patient safety
- promotes client-orientation in the provision of health care services
- improves the operating conditions of primary health care and strengthens cooperation between health care providers, between local authority departments, and with other parties that promote health and welfare and provide social services and health care.
According to the Act, health promotion means actions aimed at individuals, the population in general, communities, and living environments with a view to maintain and improve health, work ability and functional capacity, influence determinants of health, prevent illnesses, accident injuries, and other health problems, strengthen mental health, and reduce health inequalities between different population groups, as well as systematically to target resources in a manner that promotes better public health. At the national level, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is primarily responsible for guiding and overseeing health promotion in Finland.
In addition to the Health Care Act, health promotion is regulated by legislation concerning infectious diseases, tobacco control and alcohol. Reducing health inequalities is one of the prime objectives of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. Other ministries participate in health promotion in these subjects, which are central to their areas of expertise. The Ministry of Education and Culture is responsible for creating favourable conditions for sport and physical activity as well as the reconciliation and development of sport policy. For example, the Ministry of Education and Culture promotes physical activities by allocating state subsidies to national sport organisations and institutes and financing sport and health sciences.
At regional level, the Health Care Act obligates municipalities (see Glossary) to monitor the health of its inhabitants by population subgroup. According to the Act, health and welfare promotion are central responsibilities of municipalities. The purpose is to prevent the onset of health problems and the resultant increase in the need for services. Also, according to the Act on the Promotion of Sports and Physical Activity, municipalities are responsible for creating opportunities and facilities for engagement in physical activities at the local level. This means providing physical exercise services and organising physical activities that promote general health and well-being with due regard to the various target groups; secondly, supporting civic action including club activities; and thirdly, constructing and maintaining facilities for physical activity.
Additionally, municipalities are responsible for arranging and developing child welfare services. According to the Child Welfare Act (Section 12), each municipality, or two or more municipalities together, must draw up a plan, concerning the actions of the municipality or municipalities to promote the well-being of children and young people, and to arrange and develop child welfare services.
The National Institute for Health and Welfare works to protect and promote the welfare and well-being of the Finnish population. In 2017, its priorities are to create a sustainable welfare society, to reduce inequality and social exclusion, to monitor the changing rate of diseases, to be prepared for health threats and to reform the service system. The National Institute for Health and Welfare follows the strategy ‘From health to well-being – 2020 – from well-being to health’, which promotes the Finnish population’s health and well-being (the strategy is available in Finnish). The strategy explicitly focuses on those people whose voices are not easily heard in Finnish society. However, the strategy concerns the whole population, not only young people. The strategy was launched in 2011 and it will last until 2020. The National Institute for Health and Welfare has updated its strategy in order to make it more accurate in a changing situation (e.g. the ongoing process of renewing social and health services)
Since 2018, there has been youth work centre of expertise, which promotes the health and well-being of young people. A consortium which consists of the Finnish Mental Health association, EHYT Finnish Association for Substance Abuse Prevention and Youth Mental Health Association YEESI promotes mental health and substance abuse prevention by educating youth workers and professionals. Its goal is to strengthen young people’s participation in the promotion of well-being as well. For more information, see 7.4 Healthy lifestyles and healthy nutrition. (More about the youth work centres of expertise, see Ministry of Education and Culture and Youth Wiki/Finland 1.4 Youth policy decision-making).
There is a consensus in Finland that health promotion must be based on cross-sectoral cooperation. Legislation reflects this approach. The Health Care Act specifies responsibilities for different sectors and levels. As mentioned above, the Child Welfare Act requires municipalities to draw up a plan to promote the well-being of children and young people. Cooperation between municipalities in planning and implementation is possible: two or more municipalities together can draw up a plan concerning the actions of the municipality or municipalities to promote well-being, and to arrange and develop child welfare services. This plan will be subject to approval by the council of each municipality involved and must be reviewed at least once every four years. The plan must cover the circumstances in which children and young people are being raised, and the state of their well-being. (For more information, see Youth Wiki/Finland: 4.2 Administration and Governance)
The National Youth Work and Policy Programme and forthcoming National Strategy for Children both emphasise that youth policy needs cross-sectoral cooperation.