Healthcare workers age warning: "It's a ticking time bomb"

Forty per cent of doctors in a third of European and Asian countries are on the verge of retirement, according to a new report by the World Health Organization


Forty per cent of doctors are nearing retirement age in a third of the countries in Europe and Central Asia, according to a new report released by the World Health Organization's (WHO) Europe regional office. Specifically, 13 of the 44 countries that provided data note that 40 per cent of their medical professionals are over the age of 55. "The aging of the health and care workforce was a serious problem before the Covid-19 pandemic, but it is even more of a concern now, with severe attrition and demographic factors contributing to a shrinking workforce," WHO said.

Adequately replacing retiring physicians and other health and care workers should be a "major policy concern" for governments and health authorities in the coming years, the UN agency said.

The report also noted that long working hours, "inadequate" professional support, "severe shortages" of staff and high rates of infection and death from Covid-19 among healthcare workers, especially during the early stages of the pandemic, have affected the sector.

WHO estimates that approximately 50,000 healthcare workers have died with the coronavirus in Europe. "All of these threats represent a ticking time bomb that, if left unaddressed, is likely to lead to poor health outcomes across the board, long waiting times for treatment, many preventable deaths and, potentially, health system collapse. Now is the time to act on the shortage of health and care workers," Dr Hans Kluge WHO regional director for Europe said.

Mental health problems

Absenteeism among healthcare workers increased by 62 per cent in the midst of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, and mental health problems were reported in almost all European countries. And more than 80 per cent of nurses acknowledged having some kind of psychological problem caused by the pandemic health crisis.

While the 53 countries in Europe have, on average, the highest availability of doctors, nurses and midwives compared to other WHO regions, countries in Europe and Central Asia still face "substantial shortages and gaps," with significant sub-regional variations the report notes. According to the latest available data for 2022, Europe has on average of 80 nurses and 37 doctors per 10,000 population.