The world is undergoing a substantial demographic transformation, with an increasing prevalence of ageing populations in the majority of developed countries. This demographic shift poses a serious threat to the labour market as we know it, with the nursing and care industry facing the most significant challenge, a lack of qualified workers.
Despite variations in the healthcare systems of selected countries such as Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, the UK, and the US, they all share a common overarching challenge: a shortage of human resources in the healthcare sector. It is imperative to comprehend the root causes of this shortage to formulate targeted and effective solutions tailored to the needs of different age groups.
While each of the selected countries: Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, the UK and the US all have distinct care systems, the overarching challenge remains the same, the lack of human resources in the sector. Understanding the root cause of this shortage is crucial for devising effective, age-specific solutions to address the shortage of nursing and care workers.
In this article we delve into the reasons behind the shortage, drawing on data and research from reputable sources and exploring the current situation in the aforementioned countries.
The proportion of people aged 60 years and older expected to nearly double by 2050
The Population is Ageing
The global population is ageing rapidly, with the proportion of people aged 60 years and older expected to nearly double by 2050, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) . This demographic shift poses a serious challenge to the healthcare systems worldwide, as we see:
- A growing percentage of older populations inherently leading to increased demands for nursing and care services and,
- A high average age of the current workforce.
The simultaneous occurrence of these two factors compounds the challenges in an unparalleled manner.
The Shortage of Nursing and Care Workers
The shortage of qualified nursing and care professionals is as aforementioned a multifaceted issue supported by various studies:
As the growing percentage of older populations inherently leads to increased demand for nursing and care services, ageing populations also face more complex health issues, requiring a higher level of care and medical attention . The increased demand and complexity places strain on the care systems.
A high average age of the current workforce and the retirement of older workers, is significantly contributing to additional shortage . In addition, due to physically demanding work, the sector is experiencing above average early retirements due to ill health.
Insufficient Training and Education
The lengthy and demanding education required for nursing professions contributes to the slow replenishment of the workforce. Inadequate investment in training programs further exacerbates the shortage .
Insufficient Investments in Health and Well-being Initiatives
The workforce is witnessing a retention crisis as qualified individuals exit the industry, underscoring the critical need for comprehensive health and well-being programs. Numerous studies and reports emphasize the detrimental impact of neglecting the physical and mental well-being of care professionals, contributing to a reduction in the overall longevity of the workforce and consequently additional shortage..
A Closer Look at Selected Countries
Sweden is facing a growing shortage of healthcare workers, with an ageing population and increased demand for long-term care services. The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions reports a considerable gap between the need for care workers and the available workforce .
Switzerland is grappling with a shortage of nursing professionals, especially in elderly care. The Swiss Federal Statistical Office notes that the demand for healthcare services is outstripping the supply of qualified workers .
Germany is experiencing a shortage of nursing staff, with an ageing population and a surge in chronic diseases. The German Nurses Association reports a significant shortfall in the number of qualified nurses .
The UK is facing a critical shortage of care professionals, exacerbated by the impact of Brexit on the recruitment of healthcare workers from the European Union. The National Health Service (NHS) is actively seeking solutions to address the staffing crisis and maintain the quality of care .
In the US, the shortage of nursing and care workers is a longstanding issue, further intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing highlights the need for increased investment in nursing education and workforce development to meet the rising demand .
Solutions and Future Outlook
Addressing the shortage of nursing and care workers requires a multi-faceted approach, as suggested by various studies:
Investment in Education
Governments and healthcare institutions should prioritise substantial investments in expanding nursing education programs to produce a more significant number of qualified professionals .
Nevertheless, it is crucial to acknowledge that the lengthy process of the educational system may not yield immediate, short-term results.
To bolster the retention of the nursing workforce, it is imperative to offer competitive salaries, attractive benefits as well as robust professional development opportunities . Moreover, recognising the high average age of the workforce, strategic investments should be directed towards the older workforce to ensure the preservation of skills, knowledge, and experience for an extended period of time.
Utilising technology can significantly alleviate the burden on healthcare workers and enhance the efficiency of care delivery . However, it’s crucial to view technology not only as a mechanism for relieving burdens and improving efficiency, but also as a potential enabler for promoting health, activity, and connectivity of seniors. Technology has the capacity to facilitate preventive measures, contributing to a healthier and more active ageing population, ultimately reducing the demand for extensive care.
In conclusion, the shortage of nursing and care workers is a global challenge supported by robust data and research. Addressing this issue requires strategic planning, investment and cooperation to ensure a sustainable and high-quality care workforce for the future .