Europe tackles health worker shortage


THE EUROPEAN Commission has called for the establishment of a “health workforce observatory” to assist member states in planning future workforce capacity, training needs and the implementation of technological developments.

In a new Green Paper to tackle health staff shortages across Europe, the commission has also suggested developing training courses to encourage the return of mature workers to the health sector, and providing language training to assist in potential mobility.

The commission believes the shortage of health service workers in western Europe will not be solved by attracting other countries’ workforces, but requires long-term global solutions and investment in training and education.

“The key to maintaining a sufficient workforce, in the face of the impending retirement of the ‘baby boom’ generation, is to educate, recruit and retain young practitioners while reinvesting in a mature workforce,” the Green Paper has recommended.

The first major policy initiative at the European level to tackle the problem of healthcare workers’ migration, the Green Paper On the European Workforce for Health was published last week ahead of an EU Open Health forum in Brussels.

According to the European Commission’s spokeswoman for health, Ms Haravgi-Nina Papadoulaki, the document marks the beginning of a consultation period which aims to identify common responses to the many challenges facing the health workforce across Europe.

“In an ageing Europe, with growing healthcare costs and rising expectations from both citizens and patients, a high quality health workforce is crucial for a successful health system. In addition, approximately 70 per cent of EU healthcare budgets are allocated to salaries and employment-related issues,” she stated.

The Green Paper addresses various workforce supply issues, including an ageing workforce, the feminisation of the medical profession, increased mobility and targeted recruitment drives from outside the EU, in particular from the United States.

The ethical dimension of recruitment from outside the EU is also examined, with particular regard to its effect on developing countries. However, mobility within the union is also a concern.

Doctors, nurses, midwives and medical specialists in the new member states usually have lower salaries and lesser career and training opportunities, which can often lead to increased migration to western European countries. This has led to a healthcare workforce crisis in many eastern European states, the commission believes.

“The response to tackling the effects of increased mobility is not to introduce legal restrictions to the free movement of students or workers, but rather to address these issues through appropriate policies and in a coordinated manner with EU authorities and other member States,” the Green Paper suggests.