The Government’s initiatives for a modern, accessible and equitable health care system – interview with the responsible minister, Annika Strandhäll

Swedish health care maintains high international standards. At the same time, it is facing challenges that need to be addressed. Annika Strandhäll, the minister responsible for health care, talks about the Government’s initiatives to create a modern, accessible and equitable health care system. 

Minister for Health and Social Affairs, Annika Strandhäll.
Minister for Health and Social Affairs, Annika Strandhäll. Foto: Kristian Pohl

What are the challenges facing Sweden’s health and medical care system today?

Sweden has a world-class health care system with very good medical outcomes. Life expectancy is increasing, likewise the number of people who survive cancer. At the same time, we have several challenges and problems that must be addressed. These include problems concerning accessibility, staffing and utilising staff skills in the best way. These problems are also linked – staffing problems strongly compound accessibility problems.

We also see that health care is not sufficiently organised according to patient needs and that primary care is not sufficiently developed. Nor is the health care system good enough at utilising the possibilities of digitalisation.

What is the responsibility of central government in solving the challenges in health care?

Even if county councils are responsible for running, organising and staffing health and medical care in Sweden, central government has an important function of creating the conditions for equitable health care for the entire country. The role of central government includes legislating, setting standards and, via public authorities, controlling and monitoring health care. But the Government also supports the work of the county councils in various ways, including via government grants. Together, central government and county councils need to identify the long-term challenges for health and medical care, and present proposals for solutions to these.

Can you give any other examples of what the Government is doing to address the challenges?

The obvious goal is that people should always receive good quality health care, regardless of who they are or where they live. This requires strategic, long-term and purposeful work. The Government invests billions of kronor annually in better and more equitable health care, both through targeted measures and through providing increased general government grants to county councils. Further measures have been announced ahead of the autumn budget so that patients can more quickly receive care and to strengthen the terms and conditions for staff.

An initiative is being carried out between 2015 and 2018 to create more equitable and accessible cancer care, with focus on shortening waiting times and reducing regional differences.

During the past year, the Government has also received a number of inquiry proposals that have formed the basis of government bills. These concern, for example, a new complaint handling system in health care and improved collaboration when discharging patients from inpatient care.

They also concerns the long-term work being conducted by the Government’s Inquiry Chair Anna Nergårdh to reorganise health care, so it comes closer to the patients, and strengthen primary care.

In 2016, the Government introduced a new gender equality policy objective on gender-equal health. What are you doing to strengthen women’s health?

During the period 2015–2019, the Government is implementing a record-breaking initiative on women’s health to strengthen skills supply in maternity care and provide extra resources to initiatives for women’s health in primary care, particularly in socio-economically disadvantaged areas. In addition, the Government made the national mammography screening programme free of charge on 1 July 2016 and, since 1 January 2017, it subsidises contraceptives under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme for women up to and including the age of 20.

The Government is also focusing on tackling mental ill health, which affects women to a high degree.