has been described as Europe’s wilderness paradise. North of
the densely populated countries of Central Europe it boasts
an abundance of natural beauty such as the famous Northern
Lights or Aurora Borealis. Barren mountains and hundreds of
miles of beautiful coastline provide a natural setting that
attracts hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers from all
over the world.
Geographically speaking the Scandinavian Peninsula is the
northernmost part of Europe shared by Norway, Sweden and
Northern Finland, but historical, linguistic and cultural
links mean that the term also encompasses Denmark and
Iceland. A shared past and outlook on life among
Scandinavians has fostered similar types of government in
the five countries and close co-operation between them.
The right to walk freely in nature, known as the Everyman’s
Right,’ is an important part of life often taken for granted
by Scandinavian people. This is an old custom that allows
people to walk, cycle or ski through most of the land as
long as nothing is harmed and nobody disturbed.
Camping is also permitted as long as it does not disturb the
residents of a property making Scandinavia the perfect place
to get close to nature. Sarek National Park known as
Europe’s last wilderness, is the continent’s largest
national park. Founded in 1909 the park boasts more than 200
mountains over 1,800 metres high, and over 100 glaciers.
Animals such as bear, lynx, wolverine and the Sarek moose
range across the 5,200 square kilometres of unspoilt
wilderness. In 1996 Laponia was made an UNESCO world
heritage site because of its conservation benefits and its
position as home to the aboriginal Sami or Lapp people.
As well as glacial fjords and green valleys Scandinavia
boasts clean historical cities. The countryside is serene
and vast - the sense of space and relaxation that
characterises the Nordic countries can provide the perfect
antidote to the stresses of everyday city life. Cities such
as Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen, offer a leisurely and
relaxed place to spend a weekend. Sweden’s capital, the
beautiful city of Stockholm is built on 14 small islands so
that no matter where you wander, you are never far from the
crystal clear waters. Norway’s pretty capital Oslo has
wonderfully elegant streets, stunning 19th century
buildings, palaces and art galleries, and Denmark’s
Copenhagen is a lively city brimming with bars and some of
the best live music in Scandinavia.
Apart from their historical links the five nations have
followed a common social model known as the Nordic social
state since the beginning of the 20th century. This model is
perhaps most obvious in their healthcare systems. The five
Nordic countries have similar publicly funded healthcare
systems and the region’s 24 million people benefit from
state-funded medical care that is widely recognised as being
amongst the best in the world.
In all five Nordic countries more than 80 per cent of the
national medical cost is borne by the state. The basic tenet
is that disease should not lead to unnecessary suffering or
impoverishment for the stricken individual. Privately funded
medical insurance is paid by only a small proportion of
Scandinavians and private medical care is used by a
The success of Scandi-navian healthcare systems is evident
in some of the lowest child mortality and highest life
expectancy rates in the world. This success has resulted in
a growing number of elderly people and an increasing role of
the healthcare system is to offer these people help in
organising their lives in the most meaningful way possible.
Norway’s 4.4 million inhabitants benefit from a universal
social security system which has its roots in social
movements which took place throughout Scandinavia at the
beginning of the 20th century. Although the country’s
infrastructure and administration had to be re-established
after the Second World War the principle of equal access to
healthcare services was never questioned.
The country’s Directorate of Health, established after WWII,
has been continuously strengthened in the post-war period.
It is primarily a technical organisation with the
responsibility for monitoring overall public health and
guiding the health services, and drawing attention to
conditions that might adversely affect public health.
All Norwegian citizens have the right to adequate healthcare
accessible within their own communities. This is the basis
of a very strong locally based healthcare system paid for
through a National Insurance Fund financed by a special levy
paid by all employed people. Norwegians benefit from free
dental care up until 18 years of age.
Since the 1970’s responsibility for running and financing
hospitals has been at a county level and since that time
many of the country’s large hospitals have been expanded and
significantly modernised. There are only a few private beds
in the entire country.
In recent years collaboration between health services,
social services and the social insurance system has been
seen as increasingly important. The sphere of healthcare has
expanded significantly into areas previously viewed as
outside its remit. In 1991 care of the disabled was added to
its list of priorities and more recently problems such as
domestic violence have come under the remit of the
Sweden has the world’s oldest population with 18 per cent of
the population aged 65 or over. All residents in Sweden are
covered by national health insurance. Like all Nordic
countries a fundamental principle of the Swedish Government
is that the provision and financing of healthcare for the
entire population is a public sector responsibility.
Although the government is responsible for health policy and
legislation the counties and municipalities are responsible
for operating and delivering the services. The country’s 21
county councils, with populations ranging from 60,000 to 1.8
million people, operate services and levy taxes to finance
the service under the administration of local politicians.
The primary care sector treats diseases and injuries that do
not require hospitalisation. This sector employs a wide
variety of health professionals including physicians,
nurses, auxiliary nurses, midwives and physiotherapists.
Their work is organised in local health centres and everyone
has the right to choose their own family doctor.
Primary care is also provided by private doctors,
physiotherapists, at district nurse surgeries, and at
clinics for child and maternity health. The child clinics
provide vaccinations, health checks and consultations as
well as certain types of treatment free of charge to all
children under school age. Maternity clinics, staffed by
midwives and doctors, are free of charge during pregnancy.
Sixty-five county hospitals provide care in a number of
specialist fields with nine regional hospitals providing a
wider range of medical services such as neurosurgery,
thoracic surgery and plastic surgery.
In Sweden there is one physician (under the age of 65 years)
per 320 inhabitants. Over 230,000 people are employed in the
county council health services, about seven per cent of the
entire Swedish workforce.
In Denmark the vast majority of health services are free of
charge for users and 85 per cent of healthcare costs are
borne by the state through taxation. The responsibility for
running the Danish healthcare system is decentralised.
Regional authorities have primary responsibility for running
the service but in doing so they work in close co-operation
with the government and local authorities.
The system is divided into two sections. The primary
healthcare system offers general health and preventative
care to all, whereas the hospital system deals with medical
problems that require more focused treatment.
Like in other Nordic countries Danish GPs act as gatekeepers
with regard to hospital treatment and treatment by
specialists. This is to ensure that patients receive
treatment at the appropriate level of specialisation.
Each of Finland’s 450 municipalities is responsible for
arranging healthcare for its inhabitants. Despite spending
among the lowest amount of GDP on healthcare in the EU
Finland has an extensive healthcare system offering free
care to Finns regardless of income. Three quarters of
healthcare expenditure is financed by the public sector with
20 per cent being paid for by users.
Everyone in Finland is covered by sickness insurance, funded
through taxes and administered by the Social Insurance
Institution. The sickness insurance scheme reimburses fees
paid by patients in relation to sickness and treatment.
Most healthcare is now delivered through a highly successful
family doctor system. Each doctor is responsible for about
2,000 patients who offer assessment of treatment needs and
referral to hospital within three days. Each of Finland’s 20
hospital districts has a main area hospital with departments
for most main specialties.
Government finances about 85 per cent of health costs in
Iceland, the rest is covered by patients through a service
fee. Under the Icelandic Health Services Act all citizens
have the right to the best possible medical care at any time
to preserve their mental, social and physical health.
It is the responsibility of the Minister for Health and
Social Security to ensure that medical care is in accordance
with the best knowledge and experience at any given time is
available. Like in other Nordic countries Icelandic general
practitioners act as gatekeepers to further medical services
and treatment in a hospital requires referral from either a
doctor in primary healthcare or from a private practitioner.