Rescue services reform aimed at improving services

Under the Act on Organising Rescue Services, adopted in June 2021, the wellbeing services counties and the City of Helsinki will be responsible for organising rescue services from the beginning of 2023. These counties and the City of Helsinki will also be responsible for organising health and social services in their areas. The existing 22 rescue departments managed by municipalities will operate until the end of 2022.

The reform will ensure a close link between rescue services and health and social services in order to generate synergies between prehospital emergency medical services. For the public, the rescue services reform will offer improved and more equal services.

Rescue departments carry out practical rescue service duties in their respective areas. Besides rescue operations, rescue departments may also carry out first response and emergency medical care duties if this has been agreed with the health authorities.

Rescue services to be restructured as part of the health and social services reform

As a result of the reform, the responsibility for organising rescue services will be transferred from municipalities and joint municipal authorities to the wellbeing services counties and the City of Helsinki from the beginning of 2023. The division into wellbeing services counties will mainly be based on the current division into regions. However, there will be four wellbeing services counties in Uusimaa, and the City of Helsinki will also carry out duties of the county in its area. 

The counties will be responsible for organising both health and social services and rescue services in their areas. Rescue departments can continue to provide prehospital emergency medical services for healthcare. Rescue services will, however, continue to be a separate sector working in parallel with the healthcare and social welfare sector. Currently, the rescue departments carry out approximately 500,000 urgent prehospital emergency medical care duties every year. 

Stronger central government guidance and direction

As a result of the reform, the role of central government guidance and direction in rescue services will be strengthened. Stronger national guidance and direction will improve the provision of more harmonised and thus more equal rescue services throughout the country. In addition, the aim of the reform is to develop the rescue services to operate as a national system.

The Government will confirm the national strategic objectives for rescue services for a four-year term. The Government can also decide on the centralisation of some special tasks carried out by the rescue services so that these are handled by one or more wellbeing services counties.

The Ministry of the Interior will guide and direct the organisation of the rescue services of the wellbeing services counties and the City of Helsinki. The counties and the Ministry of the Interior will hold annual negotiations to provide guidance and direction concerning the organisation of rescue services. In addition, an advisory board for rescue services will be established under the Ministry of the Interior. The ministries responsible for the guidance and direction of the wellbeing services counties and the counties themselves will participate in the work of this board. 

The Regional State Administrative Agencies will oversee and assess rescue services and the level and standard of their services, which must correspond to national, regional and local needs and the risk of incidents and accidents.

Ministries to cooperate closely in the national preparation

The transfer of responsibility for rescue, health and social services to wellbeing services counties will be carried out through close collaboration between the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the Ministry of Finance.

Provisions on the central government guidance and direction of the rescue services of the counties are laid down in the Act on Organising Rescue Services.

Preparatory stage

The Government published its policy on the reform of rescue services at a press conference held on 5 June 2020. The draft government proposal concerning the health and social services reform and the organisation of rescue services was sent out for comments on 15 June 2020. 
The deadline for submitting comments on the proposal was 25 September 2020. The Government submitted its proposal to Parliament on 8 February 2020.

On 23 June 2021, the legislative proposals were adopted by Parliament in a plenary session, and the Acts will enter into force on 1 July 2021.

The next step is to set up interim preparatory bodies for the wellbeing services counties and to hold county elections. The counties will take up the responsibilities from 2023.