Power and politics in a pandemic: Insights from Finnish health system leaders during COVID-19

Laura Kihlström, Lea Siemes, Moona Huhtakangas, Ilmo Keskimäki, Liina-Kaisa Tynkkynen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
10 Downloads (Pure)


Power and politics are both critical concepts to engage with in health systems and policy research, as they impact actions, processes, and outcomes at all levels in health systems. Building on the conceptualization of health systems as social systems, we investigate how power and politics manifested in the Finnish health system during COVID-19, posing the following research question: in what ways did health system leaders and experts experience issues of power and politics during COVID-19, and how did power and politics impact health system governance? We completed online interviews with health system leaders and experts (n = 53) at the local, regional, and national level in Finland from March 2021 to February 2022. The analysis followed an iterative thematic analysis process in which the data guided the codebook. The results demonstrate that power and politics affected health system governance in Finland during COVID-19 in a multitude of ways. These can be summarized through the themes of credit and blame, frame contestation, and transparency and trust. Overall, political leaders at the national level were heavily involved in the governance of COVID-19 in Finland, which was perceived as having both negative and positive impacts. The politicization of the pandemic took health officials and civil servants by surprise, and events during the first year of COVID-19 in Finland reflect recurring vertical and horizontal power dynamics between local, regional, and national actors. The paper contributes to the growing call for power-focused health systems and policy research. The results suggest that analyses of pandemic governance and lessons learned are likely to leave out critical factors if left absent of an explicit analysis of power and politics, and that such analyses are needed to ensure accountability in health systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number115783
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2023
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • COVID-19
  • Governance
  • Health systems and policy research
  • Politics
  • Power

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 3

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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