Global training and retention of health staff has been a serious concern for many years. Still, with the additional pressures of post-pandemic recovery, under-resourcing and seasonal illnesses, the global healthcare systems are facing immense challenges as we enter 2024. 


The World Health Organization (WHO), the World Health Assembly, and the European Union (EU) have published their severe concerns regarding the health systems across the region, including the UK, Scandinavian countries, Turkey and Switzerland. Factors affecting European healthcare settings include a rapidly ageing population, growing healthcare worker shortages, underinvestment, external shocks, such as climate change and inflationary costs, and the catch-up and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. 


This is a picture seen globally, with Forbes reporting that the US is experiencing a severe shortage of healthcare workers, with the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) predicting up to a 124,000 physician shortage by the end of the decade in the US. The International Council of Nurses also predicts the US will lose up to 600,000 nurses by 2027. 


In Africa, the WHO estimate that there will be a 6.1 million shortage of healthcare workers across the continent by 2030. In Nigeria, the Nigerian Association of Resident Doctors indicated that 6 in 10 doctors were planning to leave the country, and similarly, the nurses’ union stated that 57,000 had left between 2017 and 2022. 


Common themes for the global healthcare staffing crisis include burnout, especially post-pandemic, poor investment in healthcare systems, remuneration, poor pay and cost of living challenges for staff, and poor training and retention of students. 


To compound this issue, as well as long waiting lists for routine treatment and surgery, Europe, the UK and the US are reporting seasonal surge in demand in healthcare settings due to increases in Flu, Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) and COVID. According to Forbes, which references this issue as a ‘Tridemic’, Spain and Italy have been the worst affected, where hospitals are struggling to cope with the influx of patients. There are also broad rises across Germany, France and the UK, with France claiming 10 out of 18 regions are officially in an epidemic phase of flu cases. In December 2023, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) also evidenced these rising trends and advised member states to “prepare for the possible need to increase emergency department and ICU capacity (in terms of adequate staffing and bed capacity), for both adult and paediatric hospitals”, and in the US, the North Carolina Department for Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) issued a statement regarding the high volumes of people presenting to emergency departments with respiratory illness symptoms. 


These global issues, compounded by seasonal illnesses, will likely cause significant challenges for travellers, travel insurers, overseas workers and their employers, and international medical assistance companies. Travellers who require hospital care and treatment are now more likely to experience longer waits to be seen in the emergency department, delays in getting a bed, delays and cancellations for tests, investigations and surgeries, and prolonged admissions. The challenge for insurers and medical assistance companies is to facilitate, as best as possible, the quickest and most cost-effective healthcare solutions for travellers. This can include negotiating with public hospitals and treating doctors, using private hospitals, or medically assisted transfer to their home country. It may also mean that emergency evacuations to a place of safety are more likely if the standard of care, staffing, or access to the necessary treatments is no longer possible. 


Med ResQ, through our network and knowledge of countries and hospitals, and with the support of our network of international assistance partners, is ready to assist its clients and patients in accessing the best and most timely healthcare solutions globally.