Intended for healthcare professionals


Shortage of doctors across Europe may be caused by migration to UK

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 25 September 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g5874
  1. Abi Rimmer
  1. 1BMJ Careers

Shortages of doctors across Europe may be a result of doctors moving to the United Kingdom and other countries in search of better salaries and working conditions, the European Commission has said.

The commission has published a study of occupations where employers typically have problems finding and hiring staff to fill vacancies,1 sometimes known as “bottleneck” occupations. The study found that labour mobility was a major contributory factor in creating shortages of health workers in newer EU member states, such as Poland. Workers often moved to the UK, Germany, or Scandinavia in search of better salaries and working conditions, the study found.

When shortages were broken down by profession, doctors were the profession sixth most in demand. In total, 21 of 29 European countries reported vacancies in their healthcare workforce.

The study also found that the reasons for the shortages differed between countries. Too few people training as health professionals caused shortages in most of the EU15 countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, UK, Austria, Finland, and Sweden). But in newer EU member states, such as Poland, labour mobility played a large role. “Old member states use targeted recruiting, which combined with better salaries and working conditions, leads to labour mobility and consequent labour shortages in countries of origin,” the report said.

Citing evidence from Poland, the authors of the report said, “In general, employers in the health sector report hard to fill vacancies for medical doctors of all disciplines mainly due to high emigration rates of ‘health professionals’ heading towards western and northern parts of the EU, eg Germany, United Kingdom, and Scandinavia. Better working conditions and payment are the main drivers of emigration.”

The study found that healthcare was one of the sectors worst affected by bottleneck occupations because most positions required highly skilled professionals. Around 50% of the shortage of health professionals in the EU was due to a lack of applicants meeting the skills requirements for the job, it said.

It also found that rural areas were the most likely to struggle to recruit health workers. This was especially marked in Norway, Cyprus, France, Sweden, Estonia, Croatia, Finland, Austria, and Latvia.

The authors said, “For generalist practitioners and also to some extent nursing professionals, labour shortages seem to be concentrated in rural areas, with applicants unwilling to move from urban centres to more remote locations.

“Furthermore, salaries are considered low in several countries; low salary is reported as the most important reason for applicants not being willing to take the job. In EU15 staff shortages and general resource constraints in the public health sector are reported to lead to unfavourable working conditions, such as is the case in Finland and Sweden.”


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