(10 August 2023) EPSU recently held a productive discussion with European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, to tackle the critical staff shortages facing healthcare and care workers in Europe.
Jan Willem Goudriaan, EPSU's General Secretary, stressed the severity of the staff shortage issue in Europe's healthcare and care sectors. For the European Commission's initiatives like the Beating Cancer Plan, Mental Health Strategy, European Care Strategy and preparedness, Goudriaan emphasised that concrete steps were required to address the personnel gaps for these plans to be effective.
Kirsi Sillanpää, President of EPSU’s Standing Committee on Health and Social Services, highlighted the work of social partners in the hospital and healthcare sector, particularly focusing on the updated Framework of Action on Recruitment and Retention. This framework drew on lessons learned during the pandemic, emphasising the importance of maintaining workforce levels and protecting against psychosocial risks. The aim is to ensure an adequate number of skilled staff available where and when needed. Adam Rogalewski, EPSU's policy officer for health and social services, also pointed out the need to implement the Bucharest Declaration, which calls for action at the EU level.
Commissioner Kyriakides drew on her long experience as a professional doctor and expressed gratitude towards what she described as the "beating heart of Europe's healthcare system,” recognising that every worker within Europe’s health and care sectors play an indispensable role in safeguarding the wellbeing of European citizens.
Looking ahead, Commissioner Kyriakides underlined that a long-term perspective must be taken when examining the Commission's healthcare initiatives. Projects like HERoS (Health Emergency Response in Interconnected Systems) and BeWell, on which EPSU is already an associate partner, may take time to yield results but underline the Commission's commitment. The importance of addressing health workforce issues is also reflected in the 2023 European Semester Country Specific Recommendations (CSRs), which include specific recommendations for Member States relating to health and health systems. While the Commission's attention to health and care workforce issues is appreciated, EPSU emphasised the need for consistent monitoring and follow-up on the European Semester CSRs.
The meeting served as a valuable opportunity to share priorities regarding Europe's health and care workers, opening an important dialogue. However, EPSU directly expressed concerns that the EU and its Member States were not acting urgently enough to address these shortages. EPSU urged the Commission to keep staffing challenges high on the EU agenda, including relevant Councils. Having engaged closely with the prior Swedish and Czech Presidencies on the staff shortages faced by the health and care sectors, EPSU will also work with the current Spanish Presidency and the coming Belgian Presidency.
Read the declaration from EPSU’s Pan-European Conference on Health and Social Care calling for urgent action to tackle staff shortages here.