Protecting, safeguarding, and investing in the health and care workforce was the topic of discussion at the all-important World Health Organisation’s Fifth Global Forum on Human Resources for Health.
About the conference
The forum, which took place in Geneva and virtually from April 3rd to 5th, saw more than 4,000 senior leaders from all over the world, decision makers in government and representatives from healthcare unions come together to allow for a ‘cross-fertilisation’ of ideas on how to address the monumental challenges the healthcare sector is facing, such as staffing shortages and widening access.
WPG’s own Professor Fiona Patterson hosted a virtual panel discussion on ‘International insights from policy interventions and innovations to recruit and support under-represented groups into medicine’.
This panel talk included industry-leading experts including Michelle You from China, Singapore-based Jennifer Cleland, Julia Blitz from South Africa and Saleem Razack from Canada. It saw the panel address the most recent innovations in the organisational healthcare world that promote fairness in selection in medical schools, by making a career in medicine accessible to all.
Widening access in medicine
Widening access into the healthcare sector is a topic WPG is well versed in. At the end of last year we won an award for the work we completed with Health Education England (HEE), which involved the development and practical application of an evaluation framework to explore and improve diversity and participation into medicine.
“It’s award-winning innovations like this which help widen access and recruit a future workforce that’s fit for purpose,” Professor Patterson says. “But there is still more to be done. It is important for us to learn from our international colleagues and work together to find solutions”
Right now, there are numerous health inequalities linked to the workforce. For example, worldwide we are seeing the same countries recruit the best doctors, leaving poorer countries without an adequate health workforce to meet population needs. “And there is evidence to suggest that this gap is getting wider as time progresses,” Professor Patterson adds.
So where does the problem start?
“Matching medical workforce supply to healthcare needs originates at selection into medical school,” Professor Patterson explains. “Medical schools often select primarily on prior academic attainment which favours those from more privileged socio-economic backgrounds, who tend to seek urban, specialist practice once qualified. By selecting medical students from diverse backgrounds helps to ensure our doctors are representative of the populations and local communities that they are treating.”
But these aren’t the only issues. “Research also shows that there is also the challenge of an aging global healthcare workforce with 40% of healthcare professionals due to retire in next few years,” Professor Patterson continues.
“If we just relied on people joining the profession from university, it would not be enough to meet the needs of our populations or future-proof the healthcare sector. But the ‘traditional’ systems and training pathways in play are not addressing these challenges. For example, bringing in expertise from abroad is only a short-term fix and countries need to find ways to expand their own locally trained workforce.”
Potential for change
The forum marked more than five years since the adoption of the Global Strategy on Human Resources for Health: Workforce 2030. This strategy was put in place to get the most from the health workforce — in terms of performance, quality and impact — through evidence-informed policies.
The three-day forum provided a stage for the most pressing healthcare issues, like widening access and all the implications this creates, to be discussed. Updates and any healthcare progresses made from the previous five years was shared, as well as opportunities for a post COVID-19 era that will inform the implementation of the Working for Health 2022-2030 Action Plan.
The outcomes of the forum will be compiled and inform the United Nations General Assembly’s High-Level Meeting on universal health coverage in September 2023. So watch this space!