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The European healthcare workforce crisis: how bad is it?

ݮƵ 2024; 384 doi: (Published 19 January 2024) Cite this as: ݮƵ 2024;384:q8
  1. Mun-Keat Looi
  1. The ݮƵ

Europe is facing a staggering shortage of doctors and other healthcare workers. Mun-Keat Looi looks at the extent of the problem and what is being done to tackle it

“There is no health without a health workforce,” says Hans Kluge, regional director for Europe for the World Health Organization. But this is exactly what the European Union is facing. In 2022, a WHO report drawing on data from over 50 countries showed the overwhelming extent of the health workforce shortage in the region.1

“We could face a crippling shortage of nearly 1.8 million healthcare workers, and the numbers are climbing,” Kluge told the European Health Forum Gastein in September 2023. “In some countries there are just 2.4 doctors for every 1000 people. That’s not a gap. It’s a gulf.”

“A shortage of specialist medical practitioners has been identified in 16 out of the 31 countries we are investigating,” says Irene Mandl, head of information and the EURES European employment service unit at the European Labour Authority, referring to her unit’s research.2 “In 15 countries we have shortages of nursing professionals, healthcare assistants, and general medical practitioners. In 11 countries there are shortages of home based care workers. And in about half of the countries we researched the shortages are identified as severe.”

Sandra Gallina, director general for health and food safety at the European Commission, says that shortages are not a new problem. “There are long term problems with staff retention, money, motivation, upskilling, and with medical deserts appearing,” she says. “And there is a big hoovering up of staff by the private sector from the public sector.” There are strikes in many countries, she adds, but the problem is “the long term vision—where do we get the staff and how do we cope with staff shortages? In …

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