Health worker migration is threatening the health services, therefore, Member States have to find a common solution, EU health ministers declared at their two-day informal meeting in Gödöllő on 4-5 April.
Acting as chair of the meeting, Minister for National Resources, Miklós Réthelyi, pointed out that although healthcare falls within national competence, the economic crisis and demographic problems have forced Member States to face serious challenges, which “Calls for the extension and improvement of our cooperation.” The politician said that the health sector also plays a crucial role in the implementation of the Europe 2020 Strategy, because, “Europe cannot be strong and competitive without healthy people and labour force.” The minister spoke about the Presidency’s healthcare programme titled, “Patient paths, and careers of professionals in Europe.” In respect to the programme, Mr Réthelyi said that the Presidency is mainly focusing on the upgrading of the healthcare systems, and the mobility of health workers.
Migration and shortage of professionals
“The migration of health workers causes more problems to donor countries then providing professionals,” warned Miklós Szócska, Minister of State for Healthcare, of the Ministry for National Resources, in his keynote remarks. The discussion made it clear that professional salaries can be six times as high in certain western Member States compared with eastern ones. As a result, professionals leave their native countries, in the hope of better remunerations. Mr Szócska underlined that the migration from certain Member States is so intensive that it threatens the safety of health services. “Member States should be aided in keeping their workers,” the Minister of State stressed. He added that Member States have to find a common solution and they have to agree on the ethical exchange programmes.”
The State Minister reminded that the European Commission published a green paper in 2008 it reviewed the general issues and problems that EU health workers have to face. Mr Szócska emphasised that this document is one of the cornerstones of the Hungarian Presidency’s future work.
“A vicious circle”
Speaking at the meeting, John Dalli, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, also stressed a set of increasingly serious problems, “There is more and more demand for health services, but workers are becoming fewer. This is a vicious circle, so the question is how can we break this cycle?” Mr Dalli added, “European directives are needed to draft solutions.” The Commissioner advocated the importance of exchanging information and highlighted the role of research programmes, such as the Health PROMeTHEUS (Health Professionals Mobility in the European Union Study), aimed to map the migration of healthcare professionals within the EU, and between the European Union and OECD countries. The Commissioner also mentioned that the health worker training, should also receive extra attention.
In the course of the debate, Member States spoke highly of the Presidency’s choice of subject matter, and stressed the importance of the continuation of data exchange, which could help track professional migration in every county. In this context, several suggestions were made, for developing a unified system regarding data collection. Member State representatives also emphasised the significance of regulating experience sharing, and many of them underlined that EU Member States have to consult about the training of health workers, so as to ensure the availability of the appropriate number of professional with the apropriate obtained qualifications in Europe.
EU intervention needed
“European healthcare is short of 1 million workers,” Miklós Szócska declared at the follow-up press conference. The Minister of State stressed that Member States face several problems, which need to be addressed at European level. In addition to the shortage and migration of health workers, Mr Szócska mentioned the creation of the sustainability of healthcare systems, and a number of epidemic interventions. “There are pressing daily problems in our healthcare systems, but our task here was rather to give a strategic outline,” the State Minister said regarding the meeting. He added that, “Societies are aging, so it is no wonder that certain Member States suggested the need for radical changes to the healthcare systems.”
Miklós Réthelyi welcomed almost every Member State representative to contribute to the issues put forth by the Presidency, as “These matters affect each member state.” The minister found the first day of the meeting especially valuable for looking at ways to adapting the healthcare systems to new challenges and patient needs. The minister also mentioned that everybody could express their opinion on the east-to-west migration, of health workers.
John Dalli stressed that funds for new challenges are scarce, which makes it even more important to increase the efficiency in healthcare. The Commissioner especially welcomed the discussions about the directive on non-smoker protection, and emphasised that the European Commission is currently working on the issue.
After the press conference, a study prepared for the informal meeting was presented by the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies and the World Healthcare Organisation’s European Office. The publication titled, “Health Professional Mobility and Health Systems - Evidence from 17 European Countries” draws on the first results of a research project funded by the PROMeTHEUS and examines the flow of labour force and its impact on the healthcare systems.
Informal Meeting of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (Health)
Date: 2011. April 02. - 2011. April 04.
The overarching theme of the meeting of Ministers responsible for Health is "Patient and Professional Pathways in Europe", with further topics such as: investing in the healthcare systems of the future; health professionals; the preparation of the EU's new Public Health Programme; a briefing on the outcomes of the Presidency events.
Location: Royal Palace of Gödöllő
Address: Hungary 2100 Gödöllő, Gödöllői Királyi Kastély
On 4 April, 2011 (Monday) the Press Center is open between 14.00-18.00 (limited services) and there is no free shuttle bus service to Gödöllő.