World Health Day 2024: from applause to action

EPSU World Health Day 7 April 2024

(4 April 2024) On World Health Day 2024, health and social care workers represented by the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) call for urgent action to address staff shortages, ensure public finance (not austerity) and strengthen the health and social care sector in Europe.

EPSU has been highlighting the urgency of the staffing crisis for several years and our calls are increasingly being heard. Staff shortages are now estimated at 2 million vacancies in Europe. There are a growing number of initiatives from policymakers to address these shortages - from the World Health Organization (WHO)-Europe, the health ministers in the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Belgian Presidency of the EU. The health sector was identified in the EU’s recently published Action Plan on Labour and Skills Shortages.

The January declaration of the OECD health ministers is welcome. They commit to “address health workforce shortages by concerted action to train, retain, and improve the working conditions of health and care workers […].” Measures are urgently needed to stop a ticking timebomb of growing staff shortages, as WHO-Europe’s Bucharest Declaration aptly declared in March 2023.

Actions to address staff shortages should recognise the specificity of the sector

The concrete actions should be discussed with the recognised social partners in the health and hospital sector at national and European levels. European social partners EPSU and HOSPEEM (for the hospital sector) and EPSU and Social Employers (for social care) have started to address this. Measures should recognise the specificity of the sectors facing high work overloads due to staffing shortages and high exposure to Psychosocial Risk Factors. 

To that end any European action plan or a strategy to address staff shortages in the health sector should aim among others to:

  • Require the Commission to develop an individual Directive on Psychosocial Risks which accounts for unsafe staffing levels as a risk factor as well as to develop an individual Directive on Musculoskeletal Disorders.
  • Strengthen European sectoral social dialogue in the health sector and strengthen collective bargaining.
  • Ensure high-level qualification of health care workers. EPSU and its affiliates are strongly against the revision of Directive 2005/36/EC on the recognition of professional qualifications as a means to address staff shortages.
  • Call on Member States to ensure sufficient public funding and investment to allow health and social care workers to deliver high-quality care. The economic governance rules must be evaluated for their impact on health workforce issues.
  • Protect health and care as public goods and prevent their commercialisation.

Health before Wealth ... Let's change Europe

On World Health Day, workers will be marching through the streets of Brussels to present their demands. This will be the second demonstration of workers organised in Brussels after the successful demonstration in 2022.

The Belgian Presidency of the EU and forthcoming EU elections are an opportunity for politicians to commit to protecting health and care as public goods and prevent their commercialisation. We call for a Europe that does not leave health in the hands of the market but strengthens health and social protection systems, affordable and accessible to all, not the few. Everyone must have the same opportunities to live in good health!

Let’s ensure that Europe meets people’s needs in the future and meet in Brussels on 7 April. The demonstration will be held on Sunday, 7 April at Place Luxembourg, Brussels at 13h30. A conference will be held on Monday, 8 April at 9h30 in the European Parliament. Practical information can be found here.