TALLINN – The social affairs committee of the Estonian parliament decided to send to first reading a bill that will facilitate the payment of additional remuneration to healthcare workers from this year's supplementary budget and a bill that will make the exchange of data between state registers necessary for resolving health emergencies more efficient.
Siret Kotka, chair of the social affairs committee, said that during the crisis, in addition to their normal work, a large number of healthcare workers are committed to preventing and combating the consequences of COVID-19. "We all agree that in defeating the virus, it is important that, in addition to the contribution of the people themselves, it is also very important to ensure freedom of action for professionals. They must be fairly remunerated for their commendable work, and this bill will, among other things, make it easier to organize this," Kotka said.
The committee chair added that while the Health Insurance Fund has previously received extraordinary money from the government's reserve fund or the fund's reserve capital to fight the coronavirus, the aim of the new bill is to create a legal basis for the introduction of measures related to the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the financial side of which will be guaranteed by the state's supplementary budget for 2021. "The Health Insurance Fund will receive 59.3 million euros from the supplementary budget, of which 53 million euros will be allocated to enable the Health Insurance Fund to pay for services under special conditions to ensure the continuity of the healthcare system. The measures are implemented in the provision of general medical care, specialist medical care, nursing care and ambulance services," Kotka said.
According to the explanatory memorandum of the bill, in the case of the general medical care service, among other things, the costs incurred in servicing patients not on the practice list of a family doctor and referring to COVID-19 testing via the family doctor's helpline will be reimbursed. Additional personnel costs of family doctor centers will also be reimbursed if the Health Board confirms the additional resource needs of the center.
Helmen Kutt, deputy chair of the committee, emphasized that the remuneration of the additional work of healthcare workers is self-evident and it is a relief that there is now a solid financial cover for this and that bureaucracy in paying remuneration has been reduced. "In fact, additional remuneration is the least we can offer for this hard and responsible work, and it is worth thinking about other compensatory measures to keep our doctors and nurses motivated," Kutt said.
According to Kutt, it is unfortunate that the government's bill still does not compensate for sick days from the first day, which, according to her, would be essential for people to stay home in the event of first symptoms without fear of losing income. "In terms of the supplementary budget, this would be 8.5 million euros, which the state would spend namely as such a crisis measure, and would also slow down the spread of the virus within workplace outbreaks. According to yesterday's report from the state situation center operating under the Government Office, workplace outbreaks are in the majority. A total of 209 outbreaks have been registered with the Health Board, of which 113 are workplace outbreaks, that is 54 percent of the outbreaks," Kutt said.
The social affairs committee approved another bill aimed at defeating the coronavirus, which aims to make the exchange of data between national registers needed to deal with health emergencies easier and more efficient. According to the amendment, the data of the register of communicable diseases will be supplemented with the data of a person who tested negative, a close contact and a person vaccinated only in case of epidemic spread.
These data can be used by the Health Board for epidemiological research, prevention of the spread of infectious diseases and monitoring. It is also stipulated that the Health Board shall provide the law enforcement body involved in the performance of its task with the necessary data from the register. In addition, it is stipulated that the Health Board has the right to transfer the personal data of a close contact of an infected person to the healthcare provider in the event of an emergency risk and in order to resolve an emergency or an emergency situation. The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Health Board also have the right to process personal data from the employment register.
The bill of amendments to the Health Services Organization Act and the bill of amendments to the Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control Act and the Taxation Act will be put to first reading on April 7.