Planning EU health workforce needs

Political

Planning EU health workforce needs

Sid Dajani, of the Pharmaceutical Group of the EU, explains why EU workforce planning is changing

The World Health Organisation estimates that 13 million healthcare professionals will be needed globally by 2020 and that European healthcare systems could require up to a million new professionals in the next four years alone.

Isabel de la Mata, a senior adviser in the European Commission’s health department, told a Brussels audience earlier this month that this requirement would have to be met either by training new staff, importing them from abroad, or by retraining the existing workforce to work in different ways. But this was contested by Michel Van Hoegaerden, programme manager for an EU-funded joint action on health workforce.

Mr Van Hoegaerden said predictions should not be based on a simple extrapolation of current workforce numbers – as the Commission is doing – but should take account of underlying dynamics and the constant evolution of healthcare demands and resources. He believes that there are enough doctors and nurses but not necessarily in the right places and without all the necessary skills.

Some professions were oversupplied, with too many pharmacists in countries such as Belgium, while some areas were seriously under-served, notably mental health and child health, said Mr Van Hoegaerden. He also contested a common assumption that migration of doctors across Europe was automatically a bad thing because it deprived poorer countries of their skilled personnel.

There is a growing trend for medical students from more prosperous countries to pursue their education in countries such as Bulgaria or Romania, where fees are lower and student quotas do not apply. Although quality assurance in medical education across Europe is still an issue, migration can also redistribute the workforce from areas of over supply to where needs are greater.

Technology will ease workforce needs and could make savings on some services, but
it could also be perceived as a threat. Some believe that it may draw investment away from providing better care via people, impose training costs, and may prove divisive by increasing the inequities in access to health.

Although progress has been uneven across Europe due to political environments, minimum data needs have been identified and agreed at European level. Now the challenge will be to coordinate and manage this information more effectively so that policymakers can take it into account in decision-making.

There has been much progress in recent years in the UK around the collection of data on which workforce planning depends. This is vital to meet future needs and is based on a more holistic approach between data, policy and education.

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