Nurses Unions to Weigh Draft Patient Safety Bill as Contract Negotiations Continue

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Facing the threat of mass layoffs and impending ICU strikes by nurses, the cabinet will continue negotiations on the controversial bill on Sunday.

Nurse strikes could threaten surgeries in several hospital intensive care units (file photo from Oulu University Hospital ICU). Image: Paulus Markkula / Yle

The five ruling parties failed to reach an agreement on Saturday on the Patient Safety Act, which should guarantee the essential treatment of patients during nurses’ strikes. By law, nurses can be forced to work to ensure patient safety.

With a number of nurses’ strikes looming – as well as threats of mass resignation – the bill will be submitted to parliament within days.

Negotiations ended with no consensus on the substance of the law on Saturday night, and will continue on Sunday. The bill was also extensively discussed by a ministerial working group on health and social services on Thursday and Friday.

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According to Yle sources, the proposal is particularly problematic for the Left Alliance, which has demanded that its terms be precisely defined. Minister of Education Li AnderssonThe party fears that the law could be misused to undermine the right to strike, with no precise limits to the situations where essential work can be demanded.

Lindén: Just fine-tune weekend conversations

Minister of Social Services Aki Linden of the prime minister’s social-democratic party, Yle told Saturday that much progress had been made in Friday’s negotiations and that the weekend talks were about “tuning” the bill. Last spring, Lindén, a doctor herself, suspended preparations for the bill after nurse unions called off an impending strike.

On Sunday, the bill will be presented to nurses and employers’ organizations during a hearing organized by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. The hearing was originally scheduled to take place on Saturday, but was postponed as negotiations continued.

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Nurse unions have labeled the proposal a “forced labor law” that would limit the right to strike and fail to address the long-standing shortage of nurses, which they say pose a much greater threat to patient safety.

The proposal will be presented to Parliament at the beginning of the week.

The legislation is now being implemented urgently as impending nurses’ strikes threaten to shut down the operation of several intensive care units.

The strikes are said to target the ICUs in the Kanta-Häme Hospital District, Turku University Hospital and Oulu University Hospital. Strike warnings have also been issued for home care in Helsinki and Oulu.

Hospital district management and the National Surveillance Authority for Welfare and Health (Valvira) have warned of the risks of the strikes, including possible patient deaths.

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ICU strike hits Hämeenlinna on Friday

Even if the law is sent to the legislature on Monday, the law would not go into effect until the first strike, which is due to start next Friday in Kanta-Häme, which also includes the town of Hämeenlinna. The strike will last 24 hours.

Lindén told MPs last week that if passed quickly, the law would come into force in time to cover labor disputes involving Turku and Oulu university hospitals. The strike in Turku will begin on September 20, followed by Oulu on September 27.

At the same time, the mediation of a labor dispute in healthcare is also ongoing. The parties will meet on Sunday at the office of the National Mediator on the Bulevardi in Helsinki.

State employment intermediary Anu Sajavaara told Yle that she will be reviewing the terms for submitting a settlement proposal by mid-next week. If an agreement were reached, the IC strikes would be cancelled.