Who/Europe’s 53 Member States Adopt Historic Resolution to Protect and Support Health and Care Workers Across Europe and Central Asia

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Representatives from 53 countries gathered at the 73rd session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe in Astana, Kazakhstan, have unanimously adopted a resolution in support of a Framework for action on the health and care workforce in the WHO European Region, covering the years 2023 to 2030. 

The framework comes at a critical time when all countries in the Region are struggling to retain and recruit sufficient numbers of health and care workers with the right mix of skills to meet the growing and changing needs of patients. The resolution acts as a foundation to help fix this health workforce crisis and will see WHO/Europe supporting governments in the Region as they implement it over the coming years.

“This is an important day for the millions of health and care workers living in our Region, as the unanimous adoption of this resolution demonstrates,” said WHO Regional Director for Europe, Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge. “This high-level political commitment shows that countries are ready to put into action concrete measures that will tackle the health workforce crisis and build workplaces where health workers are valued, respected and protected.”

The new Framework sets out 5 key actions that countries can take to protect and support their health and care workers.

Retain and recruit.

This includes policy actions to improve the working conditions of health and care workers, including reducing heavy workloads and excessive working hours, providing more flexibility in contract arrangements and ensuring fair remuneration. These actions will help improve the mental health and well-being of health workers and increase the attractiveness of health jobs, including in rural areas, for existing health workers and for new generations of young students.

Build supply.

This means modernising health education and training, including building digital health competencies to create a fit-for-purpose health workforce for present and future health services demands and needs.

Optimize performance.

This includes measures to increase efficiency of the limited numbers of health workers available in the health system. It is about innovative reconfiguration of health services, using digital health technologies, and redefining teams and skill mix so that the actions they perform add value.

Plan.

Health workforce planning is essential for anticipating future needs of the health system and for taking actions to meet them now. Strengthening the capacity of human resources for health (HRH) units and improving HRH information systems can contribute to this.

Invest.

Increase public investment and optimize the use of funds, while making the economic and social case for investing in the health and care workforce.

Tackling one of the most pressing crises of our times

The adoption of this historic resolution is the culmination of a series of measures spearheaded by WHO/Europe to address the current health workforce crisis.

During the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, WHO/Europe urged countries to do more to protect health and care workers on the frontlines, who often faced unprecedented levels of stress and burnout, as well as higher death rates due to COVID-19 infection.

Then, in September 2022, WHO/Europe launched a landmark report warning of a “ticking timebomb” threatening health systems, unless governments did more to invest in and protect their health and care workers, while learning lessons from the pandemic.

“Health and care workers are the pillars of our health systems — millions of women and men caring for the ill and the vulnerable, day and night. Supporting them, protecting them and ensuring they feel valued and appreciated is a moral imperative that we cannot ignore,” said Dr Natasha Azzopardi Muscat, WHO/Europe’s Director of Country Health Policies and Systems.

“We at WHO/Europe now hope that with the adoption of this historic framework countries will be able to tackle the health-care workforce crisis with concrete measures that support their mental health, improve working conditions and make workplaces more attractive for retaining staff, while also encouraging more young people to join the health sector.”

In March 2023, WHO/Europe convened a regional meeting in Bucharest, Romania, where more than 250 participants from 50 countries adopted the Bucharest Declaration. This called for action to improve the supply of health and care workers, measures to improve their retention and recruitment, better strategic health and care workforce planning, and greater and smarter public investment. Participants also committed to optimize the performance of the health and care workforce in their countries.

Source : WHO