Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Europe

Graying, graying, gone: Europe’s deepening health care staffing crisis

Europe’s health workforce is sick and tired — and it’s also aging. 

That’s the warning issued by the World Health Organization’s European office in a landmark report published on Wednesday.

The report examines the state of the health and care workforce in the WHO European Region, which spans 53 countries. The picture — with the available data — is worrisome.

“All countries of the WHO European Region face severe problems related to their health and care workforce,” states the report, which focuses on doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists, pharmacists and physiotherapists. “These are not new challenges, but the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problems and created some of its own.”

Many countries face staff shortages, and the situation is concerning as efforts to replace retiring health care workers are “suboptimal,” the report says. Given all this, the WHO/Europe is calling on countries to raise their game on training, recruiting and retaining workers — because things are likely to get worse.

“Further efforts to improve retention will be needed to tackle an expected increase in people leaving the workforce due to COVID-19-related burnout, ill health and general dissatisfaction. Such efforts are fundamentally important to maintaining sufficient numbers of health workers to cope with increasing backlogs due to the pandemic,” the authors write.

Failure to address the many pressures on the workforce — including staff shortages, unattractive working conditions, and a lack of strategic planning — could lead to dire consequences, warns Hans Kluge, the WHO regional director for Europe.

“All of these threats represent a ticking time bomb which, if not addressed, is likely to lead to poor health outcomes across the board, long waiting times for treatment, many preventable deaths, and potentially even health system collapse,” Kluge said in a statement.

Age is (not) just a number

Europe’s health and care workforce is growing older, and the figures are especially staggering when it comes to doctors.  

In 13 of the 44 countries with available data, at least 40 percent of doctors are aged 55 or older. By comparison, of the 36 countries with such data for nurses, only four have a workforce in which 40 percent of the nurses are 55 or older.    

Nowhere is the maturing of the physician workforce as pressing as in Italy, where over 56 percent of doctors are aged 55 or older. Elsewhere in the EU, the aging physician workforce is also notably high in Latvia, Estonia, Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Lithuania.

“These statistics point to important replacement needs in the coming decade,” the report states. 

EU countries produce varying numbers of graduates in health care fields. But the challenge — exacerbated by the pandemic — is also in retaining them. The authors cite the examples of doctors and nurses from Romania moving to work in higher-income countries like France, Italy and Spain.

The report’s recommendations to tackle the many challenges in the health and care workforce include creating working conditions that promote a healthy work-life balance to both attract and retain workers, as well as bolstering the use of digital tools to support the workforce.

But the solution is still not as simple as retaining health care workers — though that helps. It’s also key to see where they go, and what they do. 

“Most countries struggle with the problem of eliminating so-called medical deserts, which are areas where the population has insufficient access to [health care workers] and to health services. These tend to be in rural, remote or isolated areas, but they also exist in some urban settings, often in zones of poverty,” the authors write.

This article is part of POLITICO Pro

The one-stop-shop solution for policy professionals fusing the depth of POLITICO journalism with the power of technology


Exclusive, breaking scoops and insights


Customized policy intelligence platform


A high-level public affairs network

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You May Also Like

Europe

This week’s episode comes to you from the Albanian capital of Tirana where EU leaders met with Western Balkan hopefuls. And we dive into...

Europe

Belgium’s highest court on Thursday suspended a controversial treaty on prisoner exchanges which could allow an Iranian diplomat convicted of terrorism in Belgium to...

Europe

Croatia will join Europe’s Schengen visa-free travel zone on January 1. Romania and Bulgaria, however, will have to wait. The Council of the EU, which...

Europe

EU countries have become increasingly violent toward migrants and asylum seekers at their borders, a report by the Border Violence Monitoring Network launched this...

Industrial Policy

Press play to listen to this article Voiced by artificial intelligence. About 28 million people across Europe are doing platform work. It’s easy to...

Europe

Hungary is yet again trying to force the EU to compromise on its values.  The Czech EU presidency has written to ambassadors from all...

Europe

BERLIN — Ammunition running low, fighter jet purchases possibly delayed, defense spending promises missed. Germany’s grand ambitions to become Europe’s military power are off...

Europe

For generations of European Union officials, the top quality, free education laid on for their children in Brussels has been one of the most...