Timely access to treatment is the foundation for good care and for honoring patient rights. The year 2020 was a challenging time for access to treatment and for monitoring and reporting of that access.

The impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on our service production and on basic public services provided by local authorities were reflected in the access of patients to treatment. The deployment of a new patient information system complicated access to information because of the challenges in migrating data from one system to another.

Number of patients waiting for surgical procedures, other procedures or ambulatory surgery

The number of patients waiting for surgical procedures, other procedures or ambulatory surgery increased in 2020, at HUS as well as in other hospital districts. The number of patients on the waiting list increased by nearly 4,000 compared to 2019. At the end of 2020, there were 19,876 patients waiting for treatment. Of those, 7,430 had been waiting for more than 3 months and 2,936 had been waiting for more than 6 months.

Compared to the figures for 2019, the number and percentage of those waiting for more than 6 months increased significantly. This was due principally to the coronavirus pandemic. The number of patients who had been waiting for the aforementioned long time peaked at the end of August, but between the beginning of September and the end of December, we managed to reduce the number of these patients by 39%. At the end of the year, the highest number of waiting patients was found in surgery and in eye diseases.

The average waiting time for non-urgent surgical procedures or inpatient care was 52 days, and the average waiting time for ambulatory surgery was 77 days.

Patients waiting for outpatient care

At the end of the year, there were 30,795 patients covered by the treatment time guarantee who were waiting for outpatient care. This represented an increase of 14.5% on the previous year. Of those, 2,621 had been waiting for more than 3 months and 765 had been waiting for more than 6 months.

Analyzed by specialty, the highest number of patients who had been waiting for more than 3 months was found in surgery and neurology. The highest number of patients who had been waiting for more than 6 months was found in neurology and in dental, oral and maxillofacial diseases.

Coronavirus impacts on access to treatment

The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare estimates that between January and September 2020, hospital districts in Finland treated 19% fewer patients in outpatient care than in the same period in the previous year. The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare likewise notes that hospital districts were obliged to postpone non-urgent treatments in spring and early summer 2020, and patients also cancelled appointments already made. At HUS, the patients who cancelled their appointments remained on the waiting list, which contributed to the lengthening of waiting times.

In our hospital district, the percentage of patients who had been waiting for treatment for a long time began to increase after March and peaked at the end of August. Between September and December, the number of patients waiting for a long time decreased, but it was still higher at the end of the year than it had been before the pandemic.

Patients who waited for treatment for more than 6 months in 2020

Patients who waited for treatment for more than 6 months in 2020

The percentage of patients who had been on the waiting list for a long time began to increase in March because of the coronavirus pandemic. The percentage decreased again in September and October but did not fall to pre-pandemic levels before the end of 2020.

In the year under review, there was an exceptionally high number and percentage of patients who had been waiting for treatment for a long time. A similar trend was noted in other hospital districts.

Percentage of patients who waited for more than 180 days in 2016–2020

Percentage of patients who waited for more than 180 days in 2016–2020

The figure shows trends in the number of patients waiting for treatment for a long time at HUS and in other hospital districts in 2016 and 2020. The coronavirus pandemic had an exceptionally drastic impact on access to treatment in nearly all hospital districts.