26 March 2024

"We need more, better and happier doctors"

At the High-Level Conference on the Future EU Health Union, our Vice President Dr Martin Balzan encapsulated his solution for the future of Europe’s medical workforce in three words: we need more, better and happier doctors.

As doctors across Europe raise their voices to draw attention to their situation, significant political momentum is building to address the pressing issue of the health workforce crisis.

My solution for the future of Europe’s medical workforce can be encapsulated in three words: We need more, better and happier doctors.

When I started at the Medical Association of Malta over 25 years ago, over half of our doctors were leaving and never returning.

In recent years, we have reversed the brain drain and made the profession more attractive for young Maltese graduates.

Through this journey I have learned three lessons that can also be applied to tackling the Europe’s current health workforce crisis.

More doctors

If we want to provide a high-quality service for patients, we need enough healthcare professionals.

However, if the current trajectory persists, we risk facing severe shortages in the future.

We must make the profession attractive to secure the health workforce of the future.

To overcome these obstacles, increased investment in health systems is imperative to ensure safe staffing levels and lawful working conditions.

Setting minimum health workforce capacities is critical to uphold high-quality patient care and universal health coverage.

Better doctors

Investing in the education and training of the health workforce is paramount. It is crucial to provide quality undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.

On 13 December 2023, CPME hosted an expert webinar featuring distinguished speakers who discussed the importance of maintaining the highest standards and quality of basic medical education and training.

We will continue to underline to policy-makers that undercutting current minimum training requirements will not provide the best possible service to patients and is unlikely to increase recruitment numbers but rather promote the contrary.

Happier doctors

The well-being of the health workforce and doctors must be a priority. This is essential to retain doctors, by minimising migration and attrition. Alarming reports from our members across Europe highlight high bureaucratic demands, escalating rates of burnout, and overwhelming workloads. These challenges are exacerbated by workforce shortages, impeding the attainment of a healthy work-life balance.

To this end, CPME adopted a new policy on doctors' well-being last October. This policy, focuses on promoting work-life balance and supportive environments, provides a series of recommendations designed to support the holistic well-being of doctors throughout their careers.

In conclusion, the health workforce crisis demands immediate and coordinated action.

The upcoming European Parliament elections and new European Commission provide a unique opportunity to address this issue collectively and implement lasting solutions that prioritise the well-being of our healthcare professionals.

The time for action is now.

This text is extracted from Dr Martin Balzan's editorial in our recent magazine.

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