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Over 40 governments commit to address healthcare workforce shortages by improving working conditions

23 January 2024

Ministers and government representatives from over 40 countries committed at an OECD Health Ministerial meeting in Paris today to “address health workforce shortages by concerted action to train, retain, and improve the working conditions of health and care workers”.

Trade unions will be asking Ministers to work with them to implement that commitment when they get home from the OECD meeting in Paris.

“There is a chronic and global healthcare workforce crisis, caused by over a decade of underinvestment. Health systems were under-prepared for the COVID crisis and have come out of it with a health workforce that is over-worked and under-paid, and as a result is exhausted and demoralized.”

— Veronica Nilsson, General Secretary of TUAC

“There is a vicious cycle of over-work and low-pay driving staff shortages which in increase over-work and demoralization” said Veronica Nilsson, General Secretary of TUAC. “Healthcare staff shortages in richer countries are partly managed by recruiting staff from poorer countries – creating even worse staff shortages in some countries. The underlying problem is of course underfunding.”

There is a well-documented global healthcare staffing crisis that governments urgently need to tackle which consists of widely-stated and multiple problems, including

  • High work demands, long working hours, insufficient rest for recovery between shifts, high emotional demands and low wages contributing significantly to financial stress and insecurity, highlighted recently in a new study by global trade union PSI.
  • A projected shortfall of 10 million health workers by 2030, estimated by the WHO, and over 3 million additional healthcare and long-term care workers already required to improve resilience according to the OECD.
  • Health and care workers emerged from the pandemic exhausted and demotivated. In Belgium, Canada, France, the United Kingdom and the United States, the OECD found that one in five nurses reported in 2021 that they were considering leaving the profession.
  • “Worsening working conditions have weakened the attractiveness of healthcare professions. Across the OECD countries, 57% of hospital physicians and nurses perceive staffing levels and work pace to be unsafe” reports the OECD.
  • A 24% global gender pay gap in the health sector.

“It is good that Ministers acknowledge that there are health workforce shortages that can be tackled by concerted action to train, retain, and improve the working conditions of health and care workers, But Ministers need to return from the OECD and take prompt action to tackle the healthcare staffing crisis, increase wages and involve workers, patients and employers in finding and implementing solutions.”

— Veronica Nilsson, General Secretary, TUAC

TUAC called on international organisations OECD, WHO and ILO to work together to remind governments of the need to follow up on their commitment, and to collaborate to halt the health staff brain drain from poorer to richer countries. “The answer is definitely not simply to poach skilled staff from poorer countries” added Nilsson.

“The risk now is that the calls by the OECD and others to reduce public debt will result in further under-investment in health care” warned Nilsson. “After the Covid-19 pandemic, governments committed to learn from past mistakes and invest in health system resilience. Today trade unions are deeply concerned by the threat of austerity measures which would have dramatic consequences for workers, patients and health systems capacity to deal with future crises.”