Creating the Sustainable Health Workforce of the Future
King’s Heath Partners (KHP) hosted an international symposium as part of the European University Hospital Alliance (EUHA) in London on 15 June 2023.
The focus of the symposium was Rethinking European Health Systems: Creating the Sustainable Health Workforce of the Future.
Representatives attended from across all EUHA members, which brings together ten of Europe’s leading university hospitals and systems. KHP is a member of EUHA, which has the advantage of providing KHP staff and students with access to an array of collaboration opportunities, and extending KHP’s impact internationally.
Tasneem – a Project Manager from the Civil Service Fast Stream who is on six-month secondment with the KHP Communications Team – reflects on three central themes from the day:
1. Sustainability is a core challenge confronting our health systems.
Opening the event on behalf of the KHP hosts was Prof Ian Abbs, CEO of Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust (NHS FT), who said that sustainability is the greatest challenge confronting our health systems, and the staff and students within the workforce is a major part of this. The importance of workforce sustainability spans across all the relevant professions, as well as both recruitment practices and retention policies.
It was said that if we mean to address these workforce sustainability challenges, we will need to be mindful not only of numbers, but also of understanding what motivates the different groups that need to be engaged and what is important to them. Intergenerational differences are one such consideration. There is evidence emerging that the younger generation entering the workforce have a different understanding and expectations around work-life balance than previous generations.
More broadly, there was consensus from across organisations that it is essential that staff are involved in decisions that affect them. There is a strong staff sentiment surrounding this, summed up by the motto ‘not about us without us’ – a feeling which transcends borders.
Of course, the sustainability of buildings and physical presence forms another large issue under the umbrella of sustainability challenges facing our health systems. There may even be some interplay to explore between workforce sustainability, patient outcomes, and environmentally-sustainable health systems.
2. Innovation: technology is a means, not an end in itself.
Innovations and technology could play an important role in confronting the sustainability challenges in our health systems, but it is crucial to be mindful that innovation and technology should be useful and helpful for healthcare staff and patients alike. They are merely means to an end, and should not act as additional burdens on staff or patients, but should rather improve outcomes and user experience.
Moreover, whilst technology is an important site for innovation, it is not the only one; it is important that innovative approaches are also applied to re-imagining processes and how we go about things, thinking beyond the role of technology.
3. Public trust holds power and must be earnt.
Health affects us all, and public trust – in individuals, institutions, and innovations – can heavily influence an environment of progress. Public trust can differ by region, demographic and more factors, and is a dynamic feature which can change over time. Where there is high public trust in innovative technologies and the institutions and individuals behind them, this can facilitate rapid uptake and growth. Where there is lower public trust in this space, this can slow governance arrangements and potentially uptake and growth.
It is important for us as individuals and institutions to reflect on our own practices and principles before expecting others to change theirs, and it is key for us to meaningfully engage with the public to help improve our work and build trust.
KHP held the EUHA presidency from 28 November 2022 until 16 June 2023, and are pleased to have handed over this presidency to Charité-Universitätsmedizin Berlin. Charité intends for EUHA to take forward work to help ensure our health systems are viable for the future and the challenges it will hold. A key aim to this end is the development of intelligent tools and supporting innovations with data. Another area of focus is working with Nurses across Europe to develop shared training, further education programmes and exchange programmes for employees. To find out more about the EUHA, you can visit the website here: EUHA | European University Hospital Alliance (euhalliance.eu).