Investing in the health workforce

In the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the centrality of the health workforce in the resilience and sustainability of health systems. Health system capacities are being stretched in unprecedented ways and Europe is experiencing shortages of healthcare workers. The needs of patients are rising; the need for changes in health systems are becoming more pressing; and the demand for more health professionals and specialised health professionals is increasing. However, those challenges are not new; many European countries have been reporting issues in the health workforce pertaining to staff recruitment and retention, the mobility and migration of health professionals, and balancing the right skills in the right areas, for several years (2).

COVID-19 has created more pressures on the existing health workforce, but has also placed their needs and those of the future health workforce higher on the policy agenda.

The evolving and increasing needs of citizens, the digitalisation of health services, as well as the move towards more co-creation of health and care with patients, are calling for a realignment of the health workforce; development of new skills, including digital skills; revamping of training and education programs; as well as a new approach to workforce planning (1).

Those increased needs, as observed in the surge in demand during COVID-19, also have a serious impact on the mental health of the health workforce causing staff burnout, thus will most likely lead to absenteeism and early retirement (1). Therefore, it is crucial for health systems to invest in and protect their existing health workforce, while providing incentives to increase recruitment of new generations of health workers.

Many initiatives are calling for urgent investments in the health sector to ensure the sustainability of health systems. As an example, the Pan-European Commission on Health and Sustainable Development speaks to the ‘chronic underfunding and underinvestment in the health workforce’ as a result of the 2008 financial crisis. In their call to action to European countries on health and sustainable development, they urge for an increase investment in health systems to not only impact well-being, but ultimately support economic growth (3).  

Join us at EHMA 2021 to share experiences and discover best practices of how health managers are and can adopt environmental-friendly measures to improve the environmental sustainability of health systems 

1. Zapata T, Buchan J, Azzopardi-Muscat N. The health workforce: Central to an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the European Region. Int J Heal Plann Mgmt. 2021;
2. European Health Management Association, Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety. Recruitment and Retention of the Health Workforce in Europe. 2015.
3. Pan-European Commission on Health and Sustainable Development. Rethinking Policy Priorities in the light of Pandemics: A Call to Action. 2021.