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The Swedish healthcare system

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In Sweden, responsibility for health and medical care is divided between the national government, county councils/regions and municipalities. The aim of the healthcare system is to achieve good health and healthcare on equal terms for the entire population.

Healthcare shall be provided with respect for the equal value of all humans, and for the dignity of individual human beings. Those who have the greatest need of health and medical care shall be given precedence to care, and health and medical care shall work to prevent ill health.

Three administrative levels

The Swedish healthcare system is divided up into three administrative levels, which are all governed by democratically elected politicians:

  • national government
  • county councils and regions
  • municipalities

National government

The role of national government is to establish principles and guidelines, and to set the overall political agenda for Swedish health and medical care. This is done by means of laws and ordinances, or through agreements with the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR). Example of current agreements concern areas such as shorter waiting times in cancer care, obstetrics and female health, pharmaceutical benefits and support for national quality registers.

The Ministry of Health and Social Affairs is responsible for fulfilling the goals of the Riksdag - the Swedish parliament - and the Government within health and medical care policy. The Ministry is also responsible for administrating that part of the Government budget that concerns areas such as public health and medical care. Reporting to the Ministry are number of public agencies that support the activities of the Ministry, such as the Public Health Agency of Sweden, the Swedish eHealth Agency, the Health and Medical Care Disciplinary Board, the Health and Social Care Inspectorate, the Dental and Pharmaceutical Benefits Agency, the Medical Products Agency, the National Board of Health and Welfare and the Swedish Agency for Health Technology Assessment and Assessment of Social Services (SBU).

Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions, SALARexternal link, opens in new window
Agreements between SALAR and the Government (in Swedish)external link, opens in new window
Ministry of Health and Social Affairsexternal link, opens in new window
National Board of Health and Welfareexternal link, opens in new window

Counties and regions

It is the responsibility of the county councils and regions to organise health and medical care in such a way that all citizens have access to good care. Sweden consists of 20 county councils, of which 13 have extended responsibility for regional development and are therefore entitled to call themselves regions. Gotland is a municipality with the tasks and regional development responsibility of a county council, and is therefore also called a region.

The county councils and regions are governed by politicians elected by the inhabitants of the county. The county council or regional assembly is the highest decision-making body at regional level. The assembly represents the population and makes decisions on the most important issues for the county council or region, and appoints an executive committee for the county council or region. The county or regional executive committee leads and coordinates all the work within the county council or region, and is responsible for the finances of the county council or region.

The principle of municipal self-determination is written into the Swedish constitution, and entails that county councils and regions can adapt their activities to suit the regional conditions. At the same time, county councils and regions must comply with the framework determined by the Riksdag and Government. In addition to specialist legislation, such as the Health and Medical Services Act, the activities of county councils and regions are governed by the Local Government Act (SFS 1991:900).

The county councils and regions are responsible themselves for the internal control of their activities. Since 2013, the Health and Social Care Inspectorate has been responsible for supervision of health and medical care. The Inspectorate’s supervision covers both operations and health and medical care personnel.

SALAR’s list of county councils and regions (in Swedish)external link, opens in new window
Local Government Act (in Swedish)external link, opens in new window
Health and Social Care Inspectorate (IVO)external link, opens in new window

Municipalities

Municipalities are responsible for care for the elderly, care for persons with physical and mental disabilities, support and services to persons who have completed therapy and been discharged from hospital and for school healthcare. There are 290 Swedish municipalities.

Just like regions and county councils, municipalities are governed by politicians elected by the citizens. The municipal assembly is the municipality’s highest decision-making body. The assembly decides on the direction, activities and finances of the municipality, and appoints the municipality’s executive committee. The municipal executive committee leads and coordinates the work of the municipality, and is responsible for its finances.

The activities of municipalities are governed by the Local Government Act, and, just like county councils and regions, practice self-determination.

The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) is a politically run organisation that represents Sweden’s municipalities, county councils and regions. It is the largest employer organisation in Sweden.

SALAR’s duties are for example to:

  • support and contribute to the development of municipalities, county councils and regions
  • act as a network for sharing of knowledge and coordination
  • make regional comparisons of quality and efficiency
  • scan and highlight changes in the outside world

The care chain

Primary care

Primary care is the basis in Swedish healthcare. According to the Health Care Act, primary care is defined as healthcare where open care is provided without delimitation in terms of illnesses, age or patient groups. Primary care is responsible for the need for basic medical treatment, nursing, preventive work and rehabilitation that do not require the medical and technical resources of the hospital or other special skills.

Primary care consists of over 1000 health centers, district nurses and other home and family doctoral clinics. According to the Health Care Act, county councils and regions are obliged to introduce healthcare systems that allow citizens to choose between primary care providers. All healthcare providers who meet the requirements of the county councils in the welfare systems have the right to establish themselves in primary care with public compensation.

At health centers, doctors in general medicine work with nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and curators. If a patient is unable to get the correct treatment or diagnosis at the healthcare center, a referral will be written to the appropriate specialist care provider.

Act on System of Choice in the Public Sector (in Swedish)external link, opens in new window

County healthcare

The next step in the care chain is county healthcare. In Sweden there are more than twenty county hospitals and about 40 smaller county hospitals. At county hospitals, there are skills and medical equipment covering most areas of disease. The smaller county hospitals do not always have all kinds of specialist receptions. Large parts of the hospitals' activities are closed care, which means that patients are admitted to a department for one or more days. In many cases, hospitals also offer outpatient care.

Regional healthcare

Regional healthcare is conducted at the seven university hospitals in Sweden. All rare and complicated diseases and injuries are treated there. University hospitals work closely with the medical universities and colleges of education and research. Sweden is divided into six healthcare regions, and within each healthcare region there is at least one university hospital. The county councils and regions that do not have their own university hospital have agreements with nearby regions or county councils that can give patients highly specialized care.

National specialised medical care

National specialised medical care is defined in the Health Care Act as healthcare carried out by a county council and coordinated with the country as a catchment area. This means that some highly specialized care is centralized to one or two hospitals in order to achieve higher quality and better use of resources. It is the National Board of Health and Welfare that investigates and decides what care should be given as national healthcare and which county council to conduct the business.

National Specialised Medical Care - National Board of Health and Welfareexternal link, opens in new window

Income and expenses

Swedish healthcare is financed mostly through county council and municipal taxes, and county councils, regions and municipalities also receive contributions from the State. Some of the governmental grants are general, others may only be used in areas specifically designated by the State.

In 2015, the county councils’ revenues were SEK 315 billion, of which more than 70 % came from the county council taxes. The governmental grants divided into general grants, contributions for the pharmaceutical benefit and specially defines grants, amounted to almost 21 % of the revenue. A small portion of county councils and regions' revenues, around 3.5%, consisted of patient charges.

In 2015, services worth over SEK 350 billion were produced within Swedish healthcare. The county councils, which are the largest providers in the area, produced services worth SEK 273 billion. Specialized somatic care cost county councils around SEK 140 billion kronor and primary care just over SEK 45 billion.

Following the county councils, privately owned companies are the largest healthcare practitioners in Sweden. In 2014, they produced services worth over SEK 63 billion. Private performers are found primarily in open care. Most private caregivers have agreements with county councils that allow them to receive the same remuneration as public healthcare providers and charge patients pay the same fee regardless of whether the healthcare provider is private or public.

Swedish municipalities and county councils - Sector statistics (in Swedish)external link, opens in new window

High-cost threshold

There is a maximum amount for how much you have to pay for healthcare in Swedish county councils. The high-cost threshold means that a patient for a period of twelve months pays no more than SEK 1100 for outpatient care. A county council or region may decide on a lower high-cost amount than SEK 1100. When paid up to the level decided by the county council or region, you will receive a free card valid for the rest of the twelve month period. The high-cost threshold does usually not apply to:

  • fees that are paid per day when hospitalized
  • vaccinations
  • certificates and health surveys
  • prevention
  • missing visits
  • cost of journal copies
  • handling fees

In most county councils, outpatient care is free of charge for children and adolescents under the age of 20. Patients over the age of 85 do not have to pay either.

There is also a high-cost threshold for prescription medicines. Medicinal products included in the high-cost protection are subsidized by government funds, which means that the state pays a portion of the cost. Based on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Act, the Dental and Pharmaceutical Benefits is the central government agency that determines which medicines are to be covered by the high-cost threshold. The high-cost threshold for medicines means that you pay no more than SEK 2200 for a period of twelve months. Medicines included in the drug benefits are free of charge for children under 18 years of age.

1177 – High-cost protectionexternal link, opens in new window
Dental and Pharmaceutical Benefits Agency - High-cost threshold for medicinesexternal link, opens in new window
Dental and Pharmaceutical Benefits Agency - Subsidies towards medicinesexternal link, opens in new window
Act on Pharmaceutical Benefits (in Swedish)external link, opens in new window

Collaboration between public agencies

SBU, the Swedish Agency for Health Technology Assessment and Assessment of Social Services, has specific responsibility for healthcare evaluation, which entails scrutinising the methods used in healthcare to evaluate medical effects.

The Medical Products Agency provides information about the effect and safety of medical products, for example in the form of therapy recommendations.

The National Board of Health and Welfare produces guidelines and recommendations.

The Dental and Pharmaceutical Benefits Agency carries out analysis of the cost-effectiveness of pharmaceuticals, that is weigh the benefit against the cost.

Laws and regulations that govern Swedish health and medical care

The Health and Medical Services Act (SFS 2017:30) includes provisions on how Sweden’s health and medical services shall be organised and operated, and applies to all care providers and to county councils and municipalities as principals.

The Health and Medical Services Ordinance (SFS 2017:80) includes supplementary provisions to the Health and Medical Services Act.

The purpose of the Patient Safety Act (SFS 2010:659) is to promote a high level of patient safety and to reduce the number of medical injuries.

The purpose of the Patient Act (SFS 2014:821) is to reinforce and clarify the position, integrity, self-determination and participation of patients.


Skapad: 2017-11-07
Senast uppdaterad: 2018-05-24 

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