Sofia, 1 June 2017
The Secretary General of HOSPEEM (European Hospital and Healthcare Employers’ Association), Tjitte Alkema, and Mathias Maucher, Policy Officer "Health and Social Services", EPSU (European Federation of Public Service Unions) on 1 June 2017 met the Bulgarian Minister of Health, Prof. Nikolai Petrov. The minister was accompanied by Lydia Neycheva, Deputy Health Minister, and Nikolina Sotirova, Head of Cabinet. The meeting was organised with the kind support of the EPSU's Bulgarian affiliate "Federation of Trade Unions - Health Services" (FSZ - CITUB). Slava Zlatanova, Vice President of FSZ-CITUB, and Krasimir Dimitrov Grudev, Member of the Managing Board of the National Union of Private Hospitals, also participated in the meeting.
The main purpose of the meeting was to allow for a first exchange on the planned priorities and major fields of action of Bulgaria in the field of health policies and with regard to the health workforce in the context of the Trio Work Programme agreed upon by Estonia, Bulgaria and Austria and to identify possible fields of common interest with the European social partners in the hospital/health care sector.
The Bulgarian Health Minister pointed out a number of topics Bulgaria has a strong interest in and could prioritise in the context of its Presidency of the European Council in the first half of 2018. Amongst those are the numerous challenges related to the cross-border migration of health workers (for Bulgaria in particular linked to the brain drain the country is suffering), effective recruitment and retention policies to prevent from strong regional disparities within EU MS when it comes to the quality and availability of health services and a qualified health workforce, measures to ensure access to health care for the whole population, the reorganisation of emergency services with the aim to improve accessibility and quality as well as investment in continuous professional development for all health workers. In setting out his ideas to the representatives of HOSPEEM and EPSU Health Minister Prof. Nikolai Petrov advocated for the setting up of a "financial instrument" (e.g. a support fond) to better address the consequences for the "countries of origin" in both the education and vocational education system but also concretely the health care facilities stemming from the important and during the last about 20 years continued outflow of qualified health workers, including from Bulgaria, to other EU MS. The Bulgarian Health Minister also showed a high interest in a mutual exchange across Europe on policies to guarantee access to health care.
Tjitte Alkema, Secretary General of HOSPEEM and Mathias Maucher, Policy Officer "Health and Social Services" of EPSU, highlighted the priorities for the European social partners in the hospital/health care sector for the next three years as outlined in the joint work programme and gave examples of outcomes of their joint work (as summarised in the table giving an overview of the key outcomes of the Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee for Hospitals/Health Care 2006-2016) that could be of particular use for Bulgaria. Tjitte Alkema and Mathias Maucher in particular made reference to the recent work and joint declaration on continuous professional development and life-long learning (see on the EPSU and HOSPEEM website) and the forthcoming joint conference on 19 and 20 June 2017 in Amsterdam. They also illustrated joint activities and agreements by elaborating about the guidelines on ethical recruitment and retention as well as on models and policies to address the various challenges of an ageing workforce. They also recalled past outcomes in relation to the prevention and reduction of violence and harassement from third parties, of musculoskeletal disorders and of psycho-social risks and stress at the workplace (to a large extent dealt with in the framework of two projects 2014-2016 and 2017-2018. Tjitte Alkema also underlined the focus of EPSU and HOSPEEM on the health sector as services of general interest and the positive effects of (public) investment in health care services and the health workforce, including in continuous professional development and pointed out the role of European Economic Governance for policy initiatives on health employment.that - when it comes to addressing the problem of brain drain of health workers - should focus on investing in and on achieving (greater) self-sufficiency based on nationally trained health workforce.
At the end of the meeting - that also included an exchange amongst the Bulgarian participants - it was agreed to continue the exchange once the Trio Work Programme would be formally adopted end of June 2017 and to explore fields for possible joint initiatives or activities.
The meeting was followed the next day by a Discussion Forum jointly organised by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Bulgaria and EPSU's Bulgarian affiliate "Federation of Trade Unions - Health Services" (FSZ - CITUB) with the aim to identify and address the challenges for effective social dialogue in Bulgaria and to look into how EU-level social dialogue could support national structures of collective bargaining as well as agreements and initiatives between the social partners in the hospital/health care sector.