Investing in the health workforce – #EHMA2021

23 April 2021

In the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the centrality of the health workforce in the resilience and sustainability of health systems. Health system capacities are being stretched in unprecedented ways and Europe is experiencing shortages of healthcare workers. The needs of patients are rising; the need for changes in health systems are becoming more pressing; and the demand for more health professionals and specialised health professionals is increasing. However, those challenges are not new; many European countries have been reporting issues in the health workforce pertaining to staff recruitment and retention, the mobility and migration of health professionals, and balancing the right skills in the right areas, for several years (2).

COVID-19 has created more pressures on the existing health workforce, but has also placed their needs and those of the future health workforce higher on the policy agenda.

The evolving and increasing needs of citizens, the digitalisation of health services, as well as the move towards more co-creation of health and care with patients, are calling for a realignment of the health workforce; development of new skills, including digital skills; revamping of training and education programs; as well as a new approach to workforce planning (1).

Those increased needs, as observed in the surge in demand during COVID-19, also have a serious impact on the mental health of the health workforce causing staff burnout, thus will most likely lead to absenteeism and early retirement (1). Therefore, it is crucial for health systems to invest in and protect their existing health workforce, while providing incentives to increase recruitment of new generations of health workers.

Many initiatives are calling for urgent investments in the health sector to ensure the sustainability of health systems. As an example, the Pan-European Commission on Health and Sustainable Development speaks to the ‘chronic underfunding and underinvestment in the health workforce’ as a result of the 2008 financial crisis. In their call to action to European countries on health and sustainable development, they urge for an increase investment in health systems to not only impact well-being, but ultimately support economic growth (3).


1. Zapata T, Buchan J, Azzopardi-Muscat N. The health workforce: Central to an effective response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the European Region. Int J Heal Plann Mgmt. 2021;
2. European Health Management Association, Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety. Recruitment and Retention of the Health Workforce in Europe. 2015.
3. Pan-European Commission on Health and Sustainable Development. Rethinking Policy Priorities in the light of Pandemics: A Call to Action. 2021.


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I have been active in EHMA since the first years of the '90s and I have seen its evolution from a small association of members interested in sharing knowledge on health management practices to the current status of reference and advisory key player for EU, health systems and organisations, stakeholders associations, industry and universities. EHMA is now a unique knowledge hub, policy advisor, community of practice and network of best in class organisations involved in health policy and management. A place where health managers can build their competences, policy-makers and stakeholder associations envision how to implement and sustain change through health management, industry leaders understand how to engage more effectively with health organisations and systems. The right place to nurture and grow health management capabilities and capacity for every stakeholder of health systems.

Prof. Federico Lega, University of Milan, Italy

Health management has a crucial function in shaping public health and health system challenges. The Medical University of Varna, Bulgaria had success in collaborating with EHMA on EU-funded projects that has resourced us to create new health management competencies for the future workforce. In addition to all classical definitions, health management is a science dealing with individuals, groups, and society at large. It is an art contributing to the beauty of our lives and an interactive communication process at all levels of institutions and human energy. I have also had the pleasure to chair the South Eastern European Special Interest Group which gives members a space to discuss and tools to address how health systems are managed in our regions.

Prof. Todorka Kostadinova, Medical University of Varna, Bulgaria

I enjoy the high level of interaction and engagement in EHMA’s activities, in particular during the annual conference where the panel discussions are rich and well prepared. As a hospital manager and professor of health management, EHMA motivates and inspires me to be creative. You go back home feeling energised from seeing old friends and making new connections, as well as being convinced of serving as EHMA’s ambassador. It’s a strong feeling of interdisciplinary engagement, but it also feels like being part of family-like community.

Prof. Sandra C. Buttigieg, University of Malta, Malta

EHMA is a pre-eminent organisation for everyone working in planning, managing and delivering health services across Europe. As a long standing member of EHMA I have always been impressed by the vibrant community of managers, researchers and academics it has created and by the many opportunities for sharing knowledge and funding opportunities it has brought to its members. Its international scope is impressive and its impact is often felt in management and research across European and national health systems.

Prof. Axel Kaehne, Edge Hill University, UK

Health workforce has become more essential in operating, managing and maintaining health systems lately, particularly in crisis and emergency situations. European healthcare professions and the workforce need to be high on the agenda of managers and decision makers. The Health Services Management Training Centre, Semmelweis University in Hungary is a longstanding EHMA member, because it connects us with collaborators and experts, with whom we can have complex debates, from whom we can learn and at the end find solutions in various challenging fields of healthcare management.

Dr Eszter Kovács, Health Services Management Training Centre, Semmelweis University, Hungary

As a hospital administrator and health management professor, I see on a daily basis that the healthcare challenges require talented and skilled managers to transform it. the EHMA membership has been beneficial to bring healthcare management research and education to the demanding healthcare services world, promoting healthcare management competencies and knowledge creation.

Dr Alexandre Lourenco, APAH - Association of Portuguese Hospital Managers, Portugal

Many healthcare systems in Europe and beyond are facing similar challenges which require innovative and creative solutions. EHMA’s annual conference, webinars, Programme Directors’ group and other activities and resources provide incredible opportunities for networking, connecting and sharing experiences. A distinct feature of EHMA is the diversity of members with representation from many countries, sectors and different communities of practice – academic, policy-makers, practitioners, managers, leaders and students. The annual conference is a highlight in the calendar year, offering a friendly, fun and learningful environment for emerging and established members to engage, collaborate and meet up with old and new friends. I am proud to be a member of the EHMA Board.

Prof. Ann Mahon, University of Manchester, UK

Society evolution, pandemics and ageing modify health needs. So, health policies and services are to change dramatically. EHMA, through webinars, workshops and annual conference provides an excellent insight to a professional changing world, favouring closeness to management innovation and the protagonists of these changes. As a primary care services’ manager, participating in EHMA activities is really worth it and allows to involve oneself in the innovation processes.

Dr Antoni Peris Grao, Consorci Castelldefels Agents de Salut (CASAP), Spain