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Finland is becoming Europes Japan

Antti Rinne won a general election promising to fix Finlands welfare state. The big challenge now fa..

Antti Rinne won a general election promising to fix Finlands welfare state. The big challenge now facing the prime minister-elect is how to defuse the demographic time bomb thats ticking underneath it.

Finland has one of the most comprehensive welfare states in Europe. As in Nordic neighbor Sweden, taxpayer-funded health and social care and schooling are the norm.

But its population is aging faster than most of Europe. Official projections show that Finlands falling birth rate means the proportion of citizens of working age, 15 to 64, will fall from its current 62 percent to 60 percent by 2030, and to 58 percent by 2050.

By 2050, the working-age population will have decreased by 200,000 compared with today in a country of around 5.5 million.

This will have serious repercussions for state finances, according to officials. Fewer workers will be paying in to public finances while an increasing elderly population will be taking more out.

In Japan, economic growth has slowed to a standstill and strenuous fiscal and monetary policy efforts by the countrys leaders have yet to reenergize the economy.

Economists in Finland talk of a looming “sustainability gap.”

The central bank said that while public debt relative to economic output has been falling of late, “the rise in public expenditure stemming from population aging over the next decades threatens to reverse this.”

The challenge for Finland and for Rinne, whose Social Democrats secured a narrow victory in Aprils election, is of broader interest because, while the country is aging faster than its neighbors, some of them arent far behind. Countries across Europe, from Germany to Italy to Portugal, are also set to see the proportion of elderly citizens in their populations rise.

“Finland certainly serves as a bellwether for Europe regarding its demographics,” said Bert Colijn, an economist specializing in the eurozone at the Dutch bank ING, in a recent analysis.

Official statistics show the birth rate in Finland is already falling and has done so in each of the past eight years. In the South Karelia region, in Finlands east, close to the Russian border, the fall in the birth rate was 11 percent last year.

At the headquarters of the local council, officials are tracking developments with a growing sense of alarm.

“Of course it is a worry,” said Johannes Moisio, who sits on the regional council. “Municipal finances are already under pressure. things like hospitals and housing for the elderly are a big burden on municipalities, these types of services are very expensive.”

Moisio said schools in smaller towns are being closed and services concentrated in regional urban centers like Lappeenranta in an effort to reduce costs. Meanwhile, across the country, stories are emerging of failures in elderly care provision as municipalities struggle to find the right balance between quality of service and efficiency.

The concern for Finland, and for the rest of Europe, is that their future will replicate the economic present of the worlds most aged society: Japan.

There, economic growth has slowed to a standstill and strenuous fiscal and monetary policy efforts by the countrys leaders have yet to reenergize the economy.

“Finland is now facing problems similar to those with which Japan has already struggled for more than a decade,” the Finnish central bank said in a 2016 report. “The population is aging, and slow economic growth is not generating sufficient funds to cover growing public expenditure; general government debt threatens to become unsustainable.”

The Finnish central bank said Japans experience shows that postponing decisions on reforming the structures of the economy too far into the future may lead to reduced growth and employment, with resulting high costs.

A general view of Finlands parliament building in Finnish capital Helsinki | Kimmo Brandt/EPA-EFE

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I lost my arms and legs – stop it happening to others

A man who woke from a coma to discover both his arms and legs had been amputated and part of his fac..

A man who woke from a coma to discover both his arms and legs had been amputated and part of his face removed has called for mandatory training on sepsis for NHS staff.

Sepsis, or blood poisoning, is a serious complication of an infection, which can have devastating consequences if not treated quickly.

There were delays in spotting Tom Ray's sepsis.

He says a commitment is needed to avoid more tragedies.

Tom's story

Tom Ray was fit and healthy and living in Rutland in the East Midlands before he contracted sepsis at the age of 38 in 1999.

He had had a successful career in corporate banking and was in the process of setting up a business with his pregnant wife, Nic, when he fell ill.

His sepsis – thought to be caused by a cut to his gum during a trip to the dentist, combined with a chest infection – came on rapidly and led to vomiting and a high temperature.

But it took five hours at the hospital he was admitted to before the condition was diagnosed.

He spent months in a coma, during which time his wife Nic gave birth to their second child, Freddy.

His recovery has been a long and gruelling process, involving years of plastic surgery. (more…)

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Health

I lost my arms and legs – stop it happening to others

A man who woke from a coma to discover both his arms and legs had been amputated and part of his fac..

A man who woke from a coma to discover both his arms and legs had been amputated and part of his face removed has called for mandatory training on sepsis for NHS staff.

Sepsis, or blood poisoning, is a serious complication of an infection, which can have devastating consequences if not treated quickly.

There were delays in spotting Tom Ray's sepsis.

He says a commitment is needed to avoid more tragedies.

Tom's story

Tom Ray was fit and healthy and living in Rutland in the East Midlands before he contracted sepsis at the age of 38 in 1999.

He had had a successful career in corporate banking and was in the process of setting up a business with his pregnant wife, Nic, when he fell ill.

His sepsis – thought to be caused by a cut to his gum during a trip to the dentist, combined with a chest infection – came on rapidly and led to vomiting and a high temperature.

But it took five hours at the hospital he was admitted to before the condition was diagnosed.

He spent months in a coma, during which time his wife Nic gave birth to their second child, Freddy.

His recovery has been a long and gruelling process, involving years of plastic surgery. (more…)

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Health

NHS ‘should not prescribe acne drug’

The parents of young people who have killed themselves and patients unable to have sex are calling f..

The parents of young people who have killed themselves and patients unable to have sex are calling for the NHS to stop prescribing acne drug Roaccutane.

Ed Henthorn said it had caused him erectile dysfunction, psychosis and suicidal thoughts.

And one man who believes his son killed himself after taking the drug said the risks "are just too high".

Manufacturer Roche said "millions of patients worldwide have benefited from taking the drug".

The majority of those who take the drug have a positive experience.

'Pretty overwhelming'

"I used to think about girls… but my feelings, thoughts, just faded away," Ed Henthorn told the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme.

He was 19 when he took Roaccutane. He describes his acne as mild but bad enough to want to treat.

After three weeks he started to experience side-effects, including reduced energy and sex drive.

Then he experienced erectile dysfunction.

"That was why I decided to stop taking it," he said. (more…)

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