«The Shortage of Health Professionals Worldwide – A Modern Human Resources Management Challenge»
During the last 40 years a significant global shortage in the number of health professionals of all specialties (Physicians, General Practitioners, nurses, laboratory technicians) recorded in absolute and relative figures. Given the growing demand for consumption of health services, this shortage has a serious impact on the very functioning of health systems worldwide.
The reasons of the shortage should be attributed primarily to the disproportionately increasing demand for health services, which is generally generated by major factors such as population ageing, diseases related to our modern life patterns, increase of scientific specialization, assignment of large percentage of health professionals to Geriatrics, Physical Medicine, Rehabilitation and chronical diseases.
In all European countries, scarcity of health personnel in absolute figures could not be met by non-European residents, due to linguistic constraints, as for example in England every non-European individual has to take such a hard examination in order to certify English language command, that even native British could hardly pass!
The phenomenon has already reached alarming dimensions. Researchers predict that as in the United States and the United Kingdom that really seem to suffer, the rest of the developed countries will follow the same path, concluding to shutdown of health units. It is really a severe staffing crisis, not just one of many other problems.
Lack of younger employees in the US or UK is estimated at least 20% (twenty percent), many of them prefer working in retail stores rather than in hospitals or other health-care providers. Human Resources Administrators experience substantial pressure, as open positions remain at unchanged status for many months during each year. Same findings recorded in other European countries, with the Germans and the Scandinavian countries looking mainly for Physicians, while France and Austria for nurses. With healthcare professionals keep fleeing every day, deciding to keep working hard, but wherever else (supermarkets, hairdressing salons, factories, hospitality), to fill this 20% gap, we may normally need two decades!
Last, but not least, patients may suffer inadequate care, as severe staffing shortage, push some health care providers to break the rules, especially in care homes and other small facilities. Especially in the UK, staff shortages rose by 52% during the Covid-19 pandemic, while in other European countries a 25-35% is already recorded.
What about results delivered every day? Average waiting time out of the Acute & Emergency departments almost doubled, while surgery waiting lists also registering new negative records by extending waiting periods.
Covid-19 was the most recent occasion to re-emerge the problem, but the main cause of it, is sought in our own life-patterns, which have turned the attention of young generations to any other professional specializations than the health-related. Governments during the last 4 decades insist to promote mainly studies such as business administration, marketing, information technology, tourism or even arts, rather than healthcare.
Will we be stronger in the short run, as pandemic seems coming to an end? No, definitely not, as patients prohibited to approach hospitals or primary care facilities now return in droves, many of them with tumors that left unattended for more than 2 years. And this means off course, that we are probably at a worse condition than when pandemic started.
Health occupations seem to offer more disadvantages than incentives, most important of them are:
On the other hand, this crisis is self-feeding, as -given the lack of health professionals- existing workers are called to undertake more duties on behalf of their absent colleagues, resulting in the overload with more responsibilities and consequently, increasing working hours. Due to the lack of new hired employees, hospital demographics are turning “red”, as current employees growing-up without timely replacement.
European governments, have-to recognize the priority of the issue in order-to deal with it on a long-term basis. Change in the standards that must be noted in principle, in-order-for the health professions regain a competitive status, requires the cooperation of the Ministries of Health, Labor and Education across all European countries.
But what has-to be done, starting “yesterday”, as “tomorrow” will be very late?
Most of the proposals presented above need 2 prerequisites: money and better human resources management. Not so self-explained for many countries that pay low salaries to doctors and nurses, when at the same time pay much better other occupations like banking, information technology etc., while human resources management and leadership are understated.
To me personally, and I guess to the most of you, remains still unexplained how we (as a society) managed to underestimate both, health sector salaries and modern management methods. Supermarkets, where I served at the beginning of my career 30 years ago, were preparing a significant percentage of their employees, and definitely 100% of their management members, with leadership training courses, repeatedly delivered year by year, already during more than the last 40 years. To managers and employees achieving annual targets, every reputable retailer still pays a very good bonus.
But why we “fortified” supermarkets by modern management methods, while omitted to do as such in healthcare, the cornerstone of our society’s well-being along with education? It seems that we underestimated critical risk factors, as we were so absorbed by the challenge to make more money, take more education, find a better job, travel to interesting places.
Bernard Couchner, Doctor and former Health Secretary of France, in a book he wrote before the year 2000, predicted that within the next 40 years, a major pandemic will threaten to destroy the fundamentals of our civilization. 30 years later, with this prediction almost confirmed, and the whole planet steel suffering, let’s bear in mind that, how lucky we were, when from the first moment, millions of health workers, stood for all the other billions of confused people.
As the Chinese General Sun Tzu 1.500 years ago, mentioned in the book “The Art of War”: “as a leader, if you embrace your soldiers and treat them like if they were your beloved sons, they would be willing even to die for you”. Human Resources Managers understand that the triumph of management is life -not death off course- but all of us must conclude to the same result: as a society, we have-to treat healthcare personnel as they are our beloved sons, our beloved daughters, not just employees getting paid for what they do!
This is the most dynamic challenge as healthcare personnel is the only glue our society’s broken health pattern needs, in-order to keep going to what we all care for: TOMORROW!
*M. Seraskeris: BSc in Business Administration, MSc in Health Economics, Managing Director of the Etoloakarnania Group of Public Hospitals and Rehabilitation Institutions.