The workforce challenge

The workforce challenge

The healthcare systems of the developed world are coming under serious long-term pressure.


Populations are ageing and demand for health services is ballooning. AT the same time, it is becoming increasingly clear that the quality of care being provided is highly inconsistent. Healthcare’s workforce stands at the heart of these issues. To meet rising healthcare demand, more people are needed to do the work – while as a whole nations’ workforces are or will be declining. To deliver high quality care, a highly motivated and skilled workforce is essential. Finally, and paradoxically in the light of these long term trends, to reduce costs, workforce productivity is a core focus: workforce, after all, constitutes the largest single cost factor of healthcare systems.

The workforce challenge is far from simple, and we will need to rethink common assumptions to tackle the issues at stake. When the issue is reduced to discussing the “numbers” of professionals needed, we will miss the point. The truth is that in developed countries, projected shortages in the past has usually failed to materialize- we have always just spent out way out of the problem. Theoretically, we could do this again. The problem, however, is that we simply cannot afford to do this anymore – whether in developed or in developing countries. 

Simply pushing for more productivity is also not going to be a long-lasting solution. Pushing productivity too unidimensionally will hurt the very motivation of the workforce that we need so urgently to drive quality improvement efforts and face the pressures building up on the system. 

So how do we solve the dilemma of increasing demand for health services while our resources are dwindling? Can quality be enhanced in the process? Can we make healthcare workers more productive while making the work more attractive? 

To answer some of these questions, we have examined a range of inspiring examples from around the world to demonstrate that with concerted effort and transformative change there is a solution. The examples that we have used are proven and come from real provider organizations. And in most cases, they have shown to have a direct and simultaneous impact on workforce productivity, quality of care and employment levels. By combining the lessons learned from these organizations, we hope to show how the optimal synergy between these three- often conflicting – objectives can be achieved. 

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