Better working conditions means high quality health care

EPSU Health conference 24 October 2022

EPSU Pan European Health and Social Care Conference adopts declaration for urgent measures to address staff shortages and, to that end, calling for a European Demonstration on 9 December.

(24 October 2022) EPSU organized the Health and Social Care Pan-European Conference. The conference, held only once every five years, gathered 90 participants from across the continent from Norway to Kazakhstan.   Among the speakers were representatives of all relevant organisations including, ILO, the EU Commission and research institutions such as the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies (WHO and EU – research organisation),  Eurofound or European Agency on Safety and Health at Work.  

The panel on How to make the health and social care sector resilient after the pandemic

The first presentation in this panel was given by Heinz Werner Koller, Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia at the ILO. He began by stating that “to be able to protect us, [care workers] must be protected adequately, through investments in their education, training, equal pay, decent workplaces, and tools to perform safely, including OSH measures”. He highlighted the gender pay gap in the care sector as “women represent more than 65% of workers in the care sector but earn on average 24% less than peers who are men”. Countries should follow the 5Rs laid out in the ‘5R Framework for Decent Care Work’. Firstly, countries must recognize, reduce, and redistribute unpaid care work. Secondly, they must reward paid care work by creating decent pay and working conditions. Thirdly, they must protect care workers’ rights to representation through social dialogue and collective bargaining. The speech is available HERE.

Isabel de la Mata, Principal Advisor on Health and Crisis Management at DG Sante of the EU Commission, stressed in her presentation (available HERE)  that although health  is not an EU competency, the EU is able to indirectly improve national health systems through funding instruments. Currently, there are two EU funding instruments that focus on health: EU4Health and the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF). Firstly, the aim of the EU4Health program is to improve, protect and strengthen the national health systems by funding EU-level projects on health. Secondly, the aim of the RRF is to reduce the impact of Covid-19 by funding national and regional projects on digitalisation and green transition.

Marta Branca, Secretary General at HOSPEEM (the employer organisation in the health sector), focused in her presentation on how social partners can strengthen the health sector. She stated that EPSU and HOSPEEM signed the updated Framework of Actions on Recruitment and Retention on the 31 May 2022.

The panel on Exchanges of policy proposals and good practices in tackling staff shortages

In the panel focused on improving working conditions of health and social care workers to deliver quality care that aimed to exchange policy proposals and good practices in tackling staff shortages, participants were provided with presentations from Eurofound, European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies and WEMOS.

Tina Weber, from Eurofound, in her presentation (HERE) on safe staffing levels highlighted, among other things, that there will be a shortage of 2 million health care workers in the EU by 2030. Therefore, employers must increase the attractiveness of employment by not only improving pay and working conditions but also offering reskilling and upskilling opportunities to retain their workers.

Matthias Wismar, Program Manager of the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies, echoed Tina comments, adding that there are large subregional variations in Europe as many nurses and doctors are migrating from their home countries to other EU member-states in order to find better pay and working conditions. His presentation can be seen HERE

Findings by the European Health Observatory were reinforced by Aysel Rahimli,  Program Coordinator of WEMOS. She stated that many European countries have a strong dependency on foreign trained nurses and doctors. As a result, some countries are suffering from staff shortages because their workers have migrated to different countries. She argued that countries should focus on training their own workforce instead of primarily relying on foreign health care workers (Her presentation can be seen HERE).

The panel on COVID and Post COVID conditions

Elke Schneider, Senior Project Manager at the Prevention and Research Unit at EU-OSHA, discussed long- and post-Covid, and explained the various types of EU-OSHA resources available online such as the ‘Back to the Workplace’ for both employers and managers.  guidelines (Her presentation is HERE).  

Prof Dr Peter Schwenkreis is a neurologist at the at the University Hospital Bergmannsheil Bochum, Germany and he presented the examples of Germany supporting patients with Long and Post- COVID conditions.  Long-Covid is a term used for symptoms that persist longer than four weeks, while post-Covid refers to symptoms that last longer than three months. He explained how the post/long Covid programs are organized in Germany in order to support workers coming back to work.  Ann Li, Chair of Long COVID Europe, stated that it crucial to support people with Long- COVID after the period of coming back to work due to a possibility of relapsing.

The panel on How to strengthen collective bargaining and trade unions in health and social care, in particular in the private sector brought together research, EPSU policy officer and workers.

Richard Pond, (EPSU) presented the recent directive on adequate wages adopted by the Council in the beginning of October this year.  The directive provides an opportunity for trade unions to increase membership and collective bargaining coverage in the health and social care sector. (His presentation can be seen HERE).

Afterwards, the President of the European Work Council in Orpea and member of ver. di, Nicole Meyer, discussed and shared her recent experiences with Orpea .

Finally, Sebastian Franco, researcher at ENCO (European Network of Corporate Observatories) -Gresea, echoed Nicole’s comments about the issues in the private sector (His presentation is HERE).

At the conferenced delegates adopted a declaration stating that it is imperative to move from applause to concrete action to save the health and social care sector. The declaration states, among other things, that:

Across the Pan- European Region we are observing widespread unrest among health and social care workers. From the balloting for strike action in the NHS the UK, threat of mass resignation in Finland, to national demonstrations of health workers in Italy and France, the region faces increasing discontent in the health and social care sector.

Health and social care workers cannot wait for the sector to collapse due to staff shortages. The problems are urgent and need to be addressed now.

To that end the conference supports a call for action in Brussels on 9 December on the occasion of the meeting of the European Health Council.

For photos of the meeting, see our Flickr album

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