A “vitally important” target has been proposed for the UK and other high-income countries to encourage investment in home-grown healthcare workers as part of a draft global health workforce strategy.
At least 90% of all health workers required by UK should be found within its own borders rather than from abroad by 2030, according to plans drawn up by the World Health Organization.
The draft policy – called Global Strategy on Human Resources for Health: Workforce 2030 – which will apply to WHO’s 194 member countries, said there is “a need to boost political will and mobilize resources for the workforce agenda”.
It noted there was “chronic underinvestment” in the education and training of healthcare workers in some high-income countries, which had resulted in a permanent shortage of staff.
“There are substantial mismatches in the needs of, demand for, and supply of health workers nationally, sub-nationally and globally”
WHO’s draft Global Strategy on Human Resources for Health
This had then contributed to international recruitment of health workers from low-income countries, with some losing up to 50% of graduates to other countries in the past, it added.
In its proposals, WHO warned the size of the global health workforce is forecasted to increase “substantially” in the next decades due to population and economic growth, plus demographic and epidemiologic changes.
“There are however substantial mismatches in the needs of, demand for, and supply of health workers nationally, sub-nationally and globally,” it said.
The draft strategy contains four objectives to be achieved through seven global targets. These are focussed on investment in the workforce, better usage of data, improved leadership for workforce planning and a reduction in the uneven distribution of health staff across rural and urban areas.
In its response to the policy consultation, the Royal College of Nursing described the proposal for a recruitment target for homegrown health staff as being “vitally important”.
“The RCN believes that maintaining a target on workforce self-sufficiency is vitally important and ties in neatly with this strategy’s aim of promoting human resources for health as a pro-growth investment,” it said.
“Maintaining a target on workforce self-sufficiency is vitally important”
RCN response to WHO consultation
According to data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, the NHS workforce in England as a whole, including administrative staff, is made up of around 89% British workers.
The data, which was self-reported in 2014, shows this figure is 86% when broken down for nurses, midwives and health visitors.
In the RCN response to the consultation, it said the UK remained “heavily dependent” on international recruitment of nurses, as well as other health workers and said a target would help countries to become more self-sufficient.
However, it said this should not restrict the right of individual health professionals to move between countries and that policymakers should set a flexible target which ensures patient safety.
“The RCN does accept that such a target needs to take into account the multidisciplinary nature of health teams, and the different staffing needs of different care settings so that patient safety remains the paramount priority.
“As such we recognise that flexibility needs to be built into any target so that different care settings are able to deliver this,” said the union’s response document.
“The target needs to take into account the multidisciplinary nature of health teams…so that patient safety remains the paramount priority”
RCN response to WHO consultation
The RCN also called for the health support workforce to be included in the strategy and for more details on where money will come from to fund the plans.
Consultation of the proposals is ongoing and a final version of the draft policy will be submitted to the WHO executive board in January 2016.
Earlier this week, Nursing Times reported on another WHO workforce strategy aimed specifically at nurses and midwives in Europe, which is expected to be formally accepted by ministers later this month.
The five-year plan’s priorities include scaling up and transforming education and training, workforce planning and optimising skill mix, ensuring positive work environments, and promoting evidence-based practice and innovation.