On 28 November 2017, policymakers and health representatives met within the framework of the European Parliamentary Interest Group on Innovation on health and social care to spur debate on the role of innovation in supporting the re-organisation of health workers to build effective and sustainable healthcare delivery across Europe. In this frame, the meeting entitled Innovative Health Systems Reform: Boosting workforce to meet new demands in healthcare systems provided the opportunity to exchange views on the development of a sustainable, innovative and flexible health and social workforce bound to the citizen and able to provide a successful and sustainable healthcare delivery in the future, making health systems resilient to future changes.
European health system requires a deep reconstruction to ensure its sustainability: ageing society, the rise of chronic diseases, increased demand for primary care and personalised lifelong care are causing economic stress on health systems and their workforce. Therefore, rethinking healthcare systems is a priority. It is necessary to shift the focus from acute care episodes towards a person centred pathway.
As underlined by MEP Marian Harkin (ALDE, Ireland), “health workforce are the backbones of primary care solutions”. Since healthcare is highly labour intensive and one of the largest economic sectors in the EU – accounting for around 17 million jobs (8% of all jobs), the health workforce has an essential role to make the system innovative and contain healthcare expenditure.
In this regard, Prof. Jan De Maeseneer, Chair of the Expert Panel on Effective ways of Investing in Health, pointed out that “any effective changes in the system require a change in the workforce organisation”. He highlighted the crucial role of health workers in making a shift towards integrated and primary care models. Population growth, ageing societies and changing disease patterns are expected to drive greater demand for well-trained health workers in the next 15 years. However, according to the WHO, in Europe severe health workforce imbalances and shortages still exist. Encouraging primary care is what society needs as it strengthens social cohesion, reduce unnecessary hospitalisations, increase population health and, ultimately, make the system financially sustainable in the long run. As a result, it is vital to redesign professional roles by providing appropriate training and support, incentivise innovative care solutions, and engage a larger community of stakeholders including practitioners, families and informal caregivers. To make this happen it is critical to integrated health workforce in the primary care and transforming the educational models. “We need appropriated number of health workers with the appropriate skills”, said Prof. Jan De Maeseneer in his last remarks.
The critical role of healthcare workers in building sustainable healthcare systems was emphasised by Dr. Aurelién Perez, Policy Officer at the Performance of National Health Systems Unit in DG SANTE. According to the data published in the 2017 Companion Report of the State of Health in the EU, “proactive health workforce planning and forecasting make health systems resilient to future shocks”. Few challenges need to be urgently addressed to boost health workforce in Europe such as employee turnover and retention, imbalances in geographical distribution between rural/urban areas, skills mismatches and budget constraints. In this frame, improving health workforce planning and forecasting, proposing indicators to measure imbalances and mobility flow, enhancing recruitment and retention of health professionals, and anticipating future skills for health professionals (provision of care closer to home, growth of new technologies, expansion of e-health) are crucial steps to meet the new demands of healthcare and make the whole system more sustainable and innovative. Health workforce needs new skills and competences to cope with patients with multiple chronic conditions, to work within wider inter-disciplinary teams, adapt to the digital transformation of healthcare and new ways of care delivery, and allow better health promotion and disease prevention.
As underlined by MEP Karin Kadenbach (S&D, Austria), the provision of integrated care implies vital changes in the healthcare structures. It means to redesign the organisation of workflows, workforce development, education programmes and resource allocation. In line with this, policy makers should foster primary care and other community-based services, make investments in a right skills-mix of health workers and in new technologies, medical equipment and diagnostic techniques. Furthermore, integrating interprofessional education into the curricula for better outcomes will be vital to build a specialist primary care workforce and ensure a continuum of care, especially for people with chronic diseases. As policy makers we have to provide a supporting policy framework for healthcare workforce.
To know more about this subject, read our Discussion Paper.
Find the pictures of the event here.