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2020 was markedly different from all previous years for the Cancer Society of Finland (CSF), as well as for Finland and the rest of the world, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Everything changed.

With the exception of the first meeting of the year, the gatherings of our elected bodies were held remotely. Meetings of the CSF council were held by e-mail and remotely under the powers granted by the Emergency Powers Act. The central office and the offices of the member associations switched to teleworking after mid-March and this was still the case at the end of the year. The services provided to cancer patients and their loved ones changed from face-to-face to mainly remote contacts. Domestic and international travel was left undone. Training and other events went online. However, we continued to operate and learned to work in the new circumstances.

The fight against the pandemic brought major changes to the way we work in the health sector. There was a significant reduction in primary care visits, and in the spring, resources in specialised care were transferred for inpatient and intensive care for Covid-19 patients. A large number of nursing staff from different fields were trained to care for Covid-19 patients. Non-urgent operations were postponed, but delays in the treatment of cancer patients were apparently of short duration.
The biggest changes in fighting cancer concern delays in the detection of suspected cancer in the first stage. According to the Finnish Cancer Registry, the number of cancer diagnoses confirmed by pathological tests from March to June was 12% lower than expected on the basis of data from previous years. Cancer screening was interrupted from the outset, but the situation was brought under control during the rest of the year, and the 2020 screening programme has been extended to mid-2021 if necessary. Re-invitations were also sent to non-participants more frequently than previously.

Amidst the process of restructuring the social and health care system, we are working with other organisations to ensure that the services provided by organisations are integrated into overall service delivery. In our cooperation with One Life, we have influenced legislation and plans for the promotion of health and well-being in municipalities and welfare areas. For a more detailed description of our advocacy work and its key areas of focus, see the section on social advocacy. The decision to include screening for colorectal cancer in the national screening programme is one of the most important results of our advocacy work in recent years. Currently, screening is being carried out in municipalities that have volunteered to take part, but in 2022 it will start nationwide.

During the year, it became clear that Veikkaus’ revenue would decrease even more than previously anticipated. This is due to increased restrictions on gambling, a reduction in the number of slot machines and restrictions and other changes in gambling due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The CSF considers that restrictions and other measures to combat gambling harm are essential. The government decided to compensate for the impact of the reduction in Veikkaus’ revenue on beneficiary organisations’ grants in 2021 with budget and savings funds. However, for social and health organisations, the level of grants awarded for 2021 was already reduced by about a fifth. The same cut was also applied to grants for the CSF.

The Comprehensive Cancer Center Finland (FICAN) has got off to a slow start. The regional cancer centres are doing well, although they did not receive the government grants they were promised in 2020. FICAN’s national coordination centre activity had not started by the end of 2020. This is probably partly due to the priorities set by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the lack of interest in launching a national coordination is a concern for the CSF and regional cancer centres. The CSF is working closely with the regional cancer centres, is involved in planning work and has provided its own services to support the cancer centres’ activities. These services are related to cancer screening and psychosocial support for patients and their families.

The CSF participated in the regular cooperation between the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (MSAH), the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and the Non-Communicable Diseases Network, which promotes the implementation of the World Health Organisation’s non-communicable diseases programme in Finland. The One Life project, one of the results of this inter-agency cooperation, continued for a third year. The CSF Public Affairs Manager led its advocacy work and member associations actively participated in the regional collaboration among the organisations.

This extraordinary year forced us to reflect on what is essential and what is not, what is temporary and what is lasting. We made significant savings in travel costs, and travel will continue to decrease in the future. The fight against climate change and the uncertainties of the global economy must be taken into account in our operations.

Despite the exceptional circumstances, the goals we set for the year were achieved, and cooperation and coherence within the organisation were further strengthened by closer collaboration and planning for strategy implementation. During the pandemic, our organisation learned many new skills that we will be able to continue to use. Good operational and financial performance provides a strong basis for the new strategic period.