Newsletter 250 - Health Workforce

Health-EU newsletter 250 - Focus

Put the horse before the cart: Investing in health requires investing in health workforce

Andrzej Rys, European Commission Director of Health Systems, Medical Products and Innovation, discusses what the EU does to support its health workforce. During a health threat or health crisis, we are all reminded of the challenging but vital role of the medical staff, who are often the first contact patients, their families and friends have with the healthcare system. But the health workforce itself faces both external and internal challenges such as shortages of staff, geographical inequalities, lack of specific training, changing technologies and care demands and insufficient workforce planning.

What do you think is the biggest challenge the Member States face right now when it comes to health workforce?

The challenges across the Members States are similar: in the sense that it is not possible for health systems to deliver high quality care to all Europeans without a health workforce in sufficient numbers, with the right skills and in the right places.

There is an estimated shortage of nearly 1 million health workers in Europe. There is also a ‘brain drain‘ of doctors and nurses who move to countries with better working conditions and pay, leaving other countries with shortages.

Equally worrying is the skills mismatch among health professionals, which wastes human capital, strains public resources and undermines the cost-effective delivery of healthcare.

We also need to ensure that technological changes in healthcare are adjusted to the needs of the health workforce as well as of the patient, that the workforce can adapt to new situations and that the changes do indeed improve care delivery.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution - each Member State must develop its own reforms according to the needs of its health system.

What is the EU doing to support its health workforce?

The EU Treaty states that health policy and the organisation and delivery of health services and medical care is, indeed, a national competence.

The Commission monitors and analyses health workforce challenges through the European Semester, which covers a broad range of issues like shortages of professionals, working conditions, deficit skills and the organisation of human resources to fit more integrated healthcare systems.

The Commission supports national authorities to address these challenges, to share experiences and to learn from each other. That’s why the Joint Action on Health Workforce Planning and Forecasting was adopted and why the ongoing health-workforce planning and forecasting expert network was established.

The Commission will continue to provide support and will soon launch a call for projects through the 2020 Health Programme to support initiatives focusing on health workforce retention policies, access to healthcare in underserved areas, and the reorganisation of care delivery between hospitals and other community and primary healthcare centres through task shifting and interpersonal coordination.

Are you optimistic about the future?

Yes and with good reason, as health systems in Europe are among the best in the world. And we can’t forget that we are living in a golden age regarding healthcare and that things are constantly improving.

But we do need to bear in mind that we live an increasingly inter-connected world, where risks can quickly scale up and become of global concern.

So it is of paramount importance to continually invest in health. This means first and foremost investing in keeping people in good health for as long as possible. Investing in our health workforce is an essential part of that, keeping our health professionals current, safe to practice, and able to meet new skill needs. Investing in the people who help keep others healthy is always a wise investment with high returns.