European comparison: Finns’ health is relatively good, long wait times worsen access to health services

Publication date 26.1.2024 7.36 | Published in English on 29.1.2024 at 9.14
Press release

A recent report compares Finns’ state of health and Finnish health services with other EU states and Nordic countries. Released by the European Commission, focus areas of the report include the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and mental health. Although Finland does well in many respects, there are challenges especially in the availability of health services. 

In 2022, 65% of Finns felt that they were in good health. In the EU as a whole, an average of 68% of people had a similar experience. The self-perceived health of Finns aged over 65 was clearly better compared to the EU average. Of Finns aged over 65, self-perceived good functional capacity was reported by 80% of women and 73% of men. In Finland, as in the EU as a whole, self-perceived health is the poorest in the lowest income class.  

Finns’ lifestyles have undergone both positive and negative changes. The number of daily smokers and the total consumption of alcohol in Finland have decreased below the EU average in the 2000s. On the other hand, obesity among working-age people is becoming more common.  

“There are already significant social problems caused by weight gain in our population. A particularly worry is that almost every other adult has abdominal obesity, which is especially harmful to health. Obesity is also common in children and young people, but the growing rate of their obesity seems to have levelled out in recent years”, says Annamari Lundqvist, Chief Researcher at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

One in six Finns experiences mental health problems. Depression, anxiety and substance abuse are the most common issues related to mental health. Symptoms of depression are clearly more common among women than men in Finland, and in the EU as a whole. During the coronavirus pandemic, anxiety experienced by young women increased in particular. However, the Commission’s report takes note of the positive developments in the Finnish programme for combating suicide and mental health problems.

Long wait times are a special challenge in Finnish health services

In 2021, health expenditure accounted for about 10.3% of GDP in Finland. It is 11.0% below the EU average and lower than the other Nordic countries, although it grew by one percentage point in 2021. Households pay more for health care services in Finland than in other Nordic countries, especially for medicines and dental care. 

In 2022, the percentage of Finns who reported unmet medical care needs was almost three times higher (6.5%) than the EU average (2.2%). The difference to other Nordic countries was even greater.  

“The socio-economic differences are worrying. In Finland, nearly one in ten people in the bottom fifth income level reported unmet medical care needs. This number is 4.5 times the EU average”, says THL Research Professor Ilmo Keskimäki

Problems with the availability of health services in Finland are particularly related to long waiting times. The wait times for non-urgent procedures became longer in Finland especially in 2021–2022. As part of Finland’s recovery and resilience plan supported by the EU, special funding is being allocated to improving access to health services. 
The increase in remote appointments improved the availability of outpatient care services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Life expectancy was impacted by the coronavirus pandemic

Finns’ life expectancy is now 81.2 years, which is six months longer than the EU average. Life expectancy grew faster in Finland than the EU average in 2010–2019, but decreased by almost 11 months during the coronavirus pandemic. This change took place especially in 2022. The decrease was the largest in five decades and greater than the average of other EU countries. 

“The Finnish population is older than other EU states and Nordic countries. The coronavirus disease increased mortality especially among older people, which explains the decrease in life expectancy during the coronavirus pandemic. People who died of coronavirus were 87 years old on average in 2022”, says THL Research Professor Mika Gissler.

When compared to the EU average, Finland has fewer premature deaths that can be prevented by a healthy lifestyle and by diagnosing and treating serious illnesses at an early stage. Especially cancer screening is realised much better in Finland than on average in the EU. However, there are more premature deaths in Finland than in the other Nordic countries and most western European countries.

The most common preventable causes of death in Finland are cardiovascular diseases and alcohol-related deaths. The number of suicides has decreased, but it is still well above the EU average.  

Employee shortage in health care

The report released by the Commission also describes the employee shortage in health care and long-term care as well as employers’ difficulties in recruiting personnel such as doctors, nurses and home care workers. The report finds that Finland has fewer doctors than the EU average, but clearly more nurses.

“To alleviate the personnel shortage in social and health care and rescue services, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has launched the Good Work Programme, which includes both long-term and short-term measures. Among other things, the Programme clarifies the division of duties among personnel and reduces unnecessary tasks, improves the attractiveness and retention rate of the sector and increases education in the sector”, says Taina Mäntyranta, Programme Director at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. 


Every two years, the OECD and the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies prepare country-specific reports on the 27 EU Member States, Iceland and Norway. The 2023 review pays particular attention to recovering from the coronavirus crisis, mental health and preparedness for new health crises. The EU Commission published the Finnish translation of the report on Finland on 18 January 2024. All of the State of Health in the EU reports concerning population health and the state of health care in Member States were published in English on 15 December 2023.

Further information

Finland’s country report in English
All reports
Good Work Programme

Contact information

Health statistics:
Mika Gissler
Research Professor
Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare
tel. +358 29 524 7279
email: [email protected]

Inequality in access to and use of health services:
Ilmo Keskimäki
Research Professor
Finnish Institute of Health and Welfare
tel. +358 29 524 7256
email: [email protected]

Annamari Lundqvist
Chief Researcher, Head of Unit
Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare
tel. +358 29 524 7283
email: [email protected]

Social welfare and health care personnel:
Taina Mäntyranta
 Programme Director
Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
tel. +358 29 516 3692
email: [email protected]

State of Health in the EU publication series:
Liisa-Maria Voipio-Pulkki 
Chief Specialist
Ministry of Social Affairs and Health
email: [email protected]

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