The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned the implications of a global healthcare worker shortage are set to affect billions of people. The deficit currently stands at 7.2 million employees and is set to increase to 12.9 million by 2035.
The report, released at the Third Global Forum on Human Resources for Health in Brazil, attributes the shortage to an ageing workforce and when staff retire, or leave for better paid jobs, they are not being replaced. This, coupled with not enough young people entering the profession is resulting in a continued worker shortage.
In a news release WHO states the increased pressure being put on resources by growing and ageing populations is further stretching health systems. The growth in non-communicable illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, and stroke is also raising the demand for health services. Internal and international migration of health workers is exacerbating regional imbalances.
“The foundations for a strong and effective health workforce for the future are being corroded in front of our very eyes by failing to match today’s supply of professionals with the demands of tomorrow’s populations,” says Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation.
“To prevent this happening, we must rethink and improve how we teach, train, deploy and pay health workers so that their impact can widen,” Dr. Kieny added.
The WHO report makes several suggestions on how to address the shortages, including increased leadership on a political and technical level to develop long-term professional development. In addition, community healthcare workers and mid-level employees should be maximised in order to increase access to front-line healthcare.
The report, entitled A Universal Truth: No Health Without a Workforce, noted more countries are increasing their health workforce, however, it also pointed out the rate of training new professionals is falling well below the current and projected demand.
Universal Health Coverage, said WHO, aims to ensure that all people obtain the health services they need without suffering financial hardship when paying for them. In the Americas, 70 per cent of countries have enough health care workers to carry out basic health interventions, but those countries still face significant challenges linked to the distribution of professionals, their migration and appropriate training and skills mix.
The developed world, WHO noted, is expected to lose 40 per cent of its nurses in the next decade. “With demanding work and relatively low pay, the reality is that many young health workers receive too few incentives to stay in the profession,” said the agency.