Karolinska University Hospital has increased its healthcare staff since the start of the pandemic
After COVID, there is a clear mismatch between the demand for healthcare services and the available resources in the healthcare sector across Europe. This directly affects patient care. The healthcare systems in Europe are dealing with an aging society and an excessive workload that they are unable to manage effectively. However, despite the overall situation, Karolinska University Hospital has increased its healthcare staff since the start of the pandemic.
– This increase may be attributed to the psychological support we offered our staff and the government's decision to avoid a lockdown, said Björn Zoëga, CEO, on in an article recently published in Financial Times.
– Of course, we lost some staff, but we also gained some staff, for example the number of assistant nurses has increased by 4 per cent and doctors by 9 per cent since the pandemic started, adds Zoëga to the British newspaper.
Europe's healthcare staff shortage
As Financial Times reports, European countries such as Germany, France, and Italy are experiencing difficulties in maintaining sufficient healthcare staff to meet the workload since the pandemic started. Charité University Hospital in Berlin has been grappling with a sustained decline in the healthcare system's capacity ever since the onset of COVID, and it does not appear to be reverting to its 2019 levels. This challenge is compounded by an aging population and a dwindling number of healthcare professionals available to provide care. In fact, Germany's non-emergency bed capacity has decreased by 37% compared to three years ago. Additionally, Saint-Louis Hospital in Paris and Bergamo Hospital in northern Italy have also experienced similar circumstances. Europe has witnessed a significant reduction in the number of hospital beds due to a lack of personnel.
The work pace during pandemic times was 10 times higher than in 2019 and these three years of fatigue and pressure are a burden not yet relieved. That has pushed some doctors to move to the private sector or to other hospitals.
– We are also confronted with the issue of an aging healthcare workforce. If this trend continues, the workforce will need to be increased by 36% within a decade, which is not feasible, said Zoëga.
According to the Financial Times, the countries with the most acute shortage of nurses in an aging healthcare force (55 years old or older) are Iceland, followed by Bulgaria and Latvia. Italy held the top position in terms of doctors. In the south of Italy, the Villa Sofia-Cervello hospital in the Sicilian city of Palermo have experienced the move of some doctors to the northern part of Italy as well as the recent retirements, both situations have added pressure and an overwork feeling to the remaining staff.
Addressing healthcare resource shortages with digital solutions
An additional factor contributing to the shortage of healthcare human resources is the growing number of European doctors who have received their training abroad since 2010. Health leaders are currently focusing on optimizing healthcare to address the imbalance between demand and available resources. One potential solution is the utilization of more efficient digital technologies for patient communication and assessment. By implementing these technologies, the burden on healthcare systems can be reduced, particularly in non-acute care scenarios and for individuals requiring home-based services.
This year, Karolinska University Hospital embarks on a significant investment in digital home monitoring. The institution is coordinating several pilot projects in the region where hundreds of patients with conditions such as heart failure, atrial fibrillation, COPD, or heart valve infection are digitally monitored in their homes. This allows for early detection of minor deteriorations, mitigating the risk of hospitalization.
The hospital is also currently developing a new emergency model that relies on virtual nurses who receive guidance on diagnosis and treatment from doctors through video calls. This innovative model was initially implemented in northern Sweden and has successfully alleviated the workload for doctors. This Virtual Nurse model is also designed to address the shortage of nurses in inpatient care, a significant challenge for future healthcare needs. It is being tested at the Heart and vascular Center and some acute care departments at Karolinska University Hospital during spring 2023.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, its full impact was unimaginable. However, after three years since its onset, we can now witness the aftermath it has left behind. It is evident that the healthcare sector needs to prioritize the improvement of working conditions, treating it as a shared responsibility within Europe. Working in the direction to address the challenges that lie ahead is still a pending subject that needs collaborative teamwork.
Text: Paula Pérez Gonzalez-Anguiano