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Cuts lead to concerns over the future of Finland’s health and social research

The budget framework for 2014-2017, released by Finland’s government last month, dealt a blow to the country’s health authorities.

The administrative budget for health and social institutions is to be cut by €300 million—from €12.6 billion in 2014 to €12.3bn by 2017.

This will have a significant effect on research within these disciplines; a government funding cut of €30m by 2015 will hit Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) and the Social Insurance Institute (KELA).

This is a significant amount for a country with a population as small as Finland’s; the combined government income of the four institutions is only €70m a year.

The government is expected to distribute the cuts according to the size of the organisation, meaning that the THL will be the hardest hit. The institute, which holds top spot on Finland’s medical research rankings, expects to lose €15m in funding, an amount higher than its current annual research spending. Last year, the institute, which looks after health policy and healthcare provision, spent €14m on R&D, mostly paid for by government sources.

The THL has said that it will try to spread the cut as evenly as possible between its different branches. But Pekka Puska, the institute’s director-general, says the cuts will affect healthcare throughout the country. “The decision is short-sighted in terms of our preparations for the challenges of maintaining wellbeing and increasing working age in Finland,” he says.

Puska adds that the cut will put the THL’s ability to compete for EU funding at risk. Research money from the EU, mainly from Framework 7, was the THL’s third biggest source of income in 2012, amounting to €4m. Their second biggest sponsor is the Academy of Finland.

Finland’s trade unions have also criticised the cuts. Akava, Finland’s union for professional staff, has stated that the reduction could “destroy all innovative research work”, as private companies interested in social and health research need public spending as an incentive to invest.

The €30m spending cut for health and social affairs research alone means that around 600 employees could be made redundant, Puska says. If the private funds shrink too, the lay-offs might affect more than 1,000 employees, he warns.

“Less expertise means that we can apply for less money,” says Puska, adding that he fears this will affect the THL’s position as the country’s leading research institution in the field.