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Meeting healthcare needs

All over the world, healthcare systems are undergoing dramatic changes. As populations age, and the disease burden increases due to chronic diseases and HIV/AIDS, we are seeing a corresponding growth in patients' needs and demands on health care systems.

The increased pressure on these systems stretches the healthcare workforce. To meet the accelerating demand for healthcare providers, services and managed care facilities, action is needed. Health care professionals must be available and easily accessible. The availability of a high quality health care service plays a key role in the country's development at all levels.

No examination of these mounting issues is complete without a critical evaluation of global and national human resources. Data collection is the key initial step to understanding the current health care labour market. It is vital that data related to the health care workforce, taking also the international scenario into consideration, be available to be considered in national health policies and workforce planning. Due to the rapidly accelerating change in healthcare delivery, the methods and systems of education are being constantly redefined. As rules change, competence and training requirements also change.

The University needs these statistics as well as the predictions in order to plan its infrastructure, both physical and in terms of the human resources it needs as educators. For example, since the government plans to introduce a national breast-screening programme, the University should be notified early enough to set up special courses to meet the country's needs in this area and prepare its students.

The government, perhaps through the University, could also take an initiative within the EU for Malta to set up and host a centre to study and evaluate European, and even perhaps global data on the distribution of health professionals, continuing professional development systems and migration of health professionals.

The proposed centre would raise awareness of global trends and develop strategies to address issues relating to the distribution, training competence, capacity and migration of health professionals. It would seek to ensure the EU sufficiently invests to recruit, train, retain health care professionals and involve them in health policy since this is the key to the quality and safety of healthcare in Europe.

Such an international or European centre could easily be housed in the St Luke's Hospital building. There is enough space to be able one to cater for data collection, information call centres as well as training centres. Smart City and Mater Dei Hospital could complement such a centre by determining needs, conducting work - motion studies and the developing IT solutions for the health care sector.

A WHO Human Resources and National Health Systems workshop has recommended the need to collect evidence and explore the effect of strategies to manage the migration of health workers, address and map imbalances at regional and country level, to push for fair incentives and motivation, to remunerate and retain health workers, and to examine and prepare for the effect of HIV/AIDS on the healthcare workforces and workload.

Malta is gaining experience and taking action to recognise that health care workers are the life-saving interface between healthcare systems and the community. We are realising that imbalances in human resources for health care will only exacerbate imbalances in access to quality healthcare and compromise patient safety.

The local health authorities have emphasised from time to time the importance of patient safety, a health care challenge that is linked to human resources for health. The Government and the University must examine ways and means of attracting, educating and retaining appropriately qualified health care workers. Sufficient investment in recruitment, education, training, retention and involvement of health care professionals in the health care policy is key to the quality and safety of health care.

Last week we were reminded of how Malta, with the participation of the University, single-handedly changed world history by introducing the concept of the ocean as humanity's common heritage. In spite of our size, we should continue contributing to Europe and the world by furthering ideas that benefit humanity.

The setting up of a centre to promote a balance between healthcare needs and service provision, and healthcare education in Europe and possibly, internationally, is an idea worth campaigning for, and St Luke's Hospital, with possible EU financial assistance, could serve as a base for such a centre.

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