EPHA Newsletter | Launch – EPHA healthcare workforce paper

EPHA has launched its newest position paper on the question of the health and care workforce challenges, and ways forward to address those. The paper sets out the public health civil society’s position on the most important challenging points and bottlenecks, and where the focus should be in terms of action, including recommendations for policy. 

This paper comes in a policy context with a strong focus on the question, and with a call for urgent action. The Bucharest Declaration and an EESC Opinion have recently highlighted the vital role of the health and care workforce and the challenges that they are facing. The paper also comes after the publication of the WHO’s Framework for Action on the Health and Care Workforce, and in the context the Belgian Presidency of the Council, which plans to strengthen the health agenda. The Presidency also organised in March 2024 a High-level Conference on the Future EU Health Union, where Hans Kluge, Regional Director of WHO Europe, unpacked the health and care workforce crisis as a coming together of multiple crises: a labour, education, mental health, gender equality, and financial investment crisis; reminding the audience as well that behind, there is a human side. He referred to the situation as a ‘ticking time bomb’ in very insecure times with increasing competition in terms of where to invest budgets. 

The EPHA paper touches upon the different sides of this multifaceted crisis, tackling the question of shortages, difficult working conditions, and growing skills needs. The paper also addresses transversal issues such as the lack of long-term planning, which participates in the shortages. Planning in the long term would allow to map what health systems need in terms of workforce. For this, data collection needs to be improved. 

The challenges that the workforce is facing have been reinforced and worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, and are only expected to worsen in the coming years given the ageing population and an increasing demand for care. The consequences of the crisis are not only affecting people across Europe in the short-term, but they will also have an impact on future generations. Our paper then proposes ways forward, by focusing on having a strong and overarching governance approach and reinforcing primary care. For both elements, strong political will and support are needed. Ahead of the elections, EPHA has also called for a Vice-President of the European Commission on health, social rights and well-being to be set in the next mandate, who could steer the whole process. In this approach, we also call for engagement with a wide range of stakeholders, including civil society and health and care professionals. A central point is also to provide key investments to support the implementation of such policies and address the aforementioned challenges. 

Our position paper contains several recommendations, to the EU institutions, Member States, and other relevant stakeholders from the sector. It calls for the EU and the Member States to take into account the urgency of the situation and act, in particular through the allocation of sufficient budget to strengthen health systems. Several recommendations to the EU and Member States also tackle the question of skills, training and mentoring, as well as recognition of qualifications and skills standards across the EU. Then, another group of recommendations focuses on improving working conditions, mental health, and making the professions more attractive. Finally, recommendations for the sector focus on encouraging interprofessional collaboration and promoting the professions. 

The paper’s recommendations overall call for strong investments in the sector. The recent redeployment of EUR 1 billion from the EU4Health budget brings concerns on the priority that public health and the health and care sector will represent in the future. The upcoming European elections are an essential moment to call for urgent action regarding the health and care workforce crisis, and will be decisive in steering EU action on the matter.

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