EU Policy. Commissioner warns of need for doctors amid risk of 'medical deserts'

The European Commission presented a new action plan to tackle labour and skills shortages in the EU
The European Commission presented a new action plan to tackle labour and skills shortages in the EU Copyright Aurore Martignoni/CCE
Copyright Aurore Martignoni/CCE
By Gerardo FortunaMarta Iraola Iribarren
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The EU executive has acknowledged the current shortages of doctors and the importance of improving working conditions for healthcare and care workers through some key actions.


Luxembourgish commissioner Nicolas Schmit this week warned "we need more doctors" and said it was imperative to make the job more attractive, especially in rural areas, to avoid the risk of ‘medical deserts’ arising.

“Medical deserts are a reality, and this has to be seriously taken into account,” the EU Commissioner for Social Rights explained during a press conference in Brussels (20 March).

A parallel shortage is affecting the care work sector in the context of increasing demand for their services in an ageing society, Schmit said in the presentation of a new action plan to tackle labour and skills shortages.

“Care work is undervalued in many countries, so not very well-paid,” he said, adding that improvements should be made by social partners as well through negotiations on better collective agreements in the sector.

“Working conditions have to be improved,” he said, flagging working hours as one issue to watch.

Schmit made the remarks during the launch of the new plan in the context of research carried out by the commission which found half of the workers in healthcare sector reporting high stress levels attributable to inadequate health and safety conditions, including risk of violence at work.

The action plan called on member states to develop policies to attract and retain nurses through improved working conditions and mentoring initiatives especially in rural areas.

“Retention is a key objective and this is achieved by ensuring safe staffing levels, lawful working conditions and investing in doctors’ wellbeing,” said Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME) Secretary General Sarada Das.

She said the commission should take actions to protect professionals from burnout and the increasing acts of violence.

The Party of European Socialists elected Schmit as its lead candidate for the EU elections earlier this month during the party's congress in Rome. The 70-year-old led the internal race uncontested, as he was the only name put forward.

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