Addressing the global healthcare worker shortage

We need healthcare workers. 

Healthcare workers support communities, deliver care, and save lives. However, the healthcare sector finds itself in a dire and complex situation. They are resoundingly understaffed, and while the shortage is escalating, it is further impacting those working in the field as the demand for relevant, passionate, and diverse talent continues to rise.

To address this problem, awareness, education, legislative adoption, and technology integration – like staff safety tools such as Sani Nudge’s hand hygiene solution – are crucial to making a change.

Currently, the World Health Organization (WHO) has “identified that 18 million more healthcare workers are needed by 2030, primarily in low and lower-middle-income communities”. 

Also, WHO states that “9 million more nurses and midwives are needed by 2030 for all countries to reach SD3 goals for health and well-being.” This significant stat does not include home workers, caretakers, and other emergency workers.  

Before Covid-19, the global healthcare worker shortage had begun, but the global pandemic exacerbated the crucial issue. In the US, the American Nursing Association has placed so much energy behind this issue that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) deemed this problem a national crisis. In Europe, there is a shortage of 1 million healthcare workers which led our team to look more closely at this transcending issue.

Theis Jensen, CEO of Sani Nudge, speaks to the urgency around this issue, stating that:

“Healthcare workers are among the most important members of society. Being a technology company, we made it our business to put their safety first because they spend the majority of their time focusing on us as individuals.”

What led to a shortage of healthcare staff?

So what caused this significant and growing problem? In 2022, we find healthcare workers facing personal and professional burdens like they never have before, which, left unaddressed, puts their ability to care for patients in jeopardy. 

Mortality and high risks in day-to-day work 

The critical stat today is that “Over 115,000 health and care workers died during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“There are approximately 59 million healthcare workers worldwide.” So many of them have lost important people during these challenging times. The grief that comes with losing peers is extreme enough, but this heart-breaking loss does not begin to indicate the additional challenges with Covid-19. These can include but are not limited to stress, burnout, trauma, disruption, isolation, a more demanding workload, and limited access to behavioural health resources to address these challenges. 

Finally, post-Covid-19 has lingering impacts on personal health, but more so for the healthcare community. Teams with high Covid-19 cases and workers on the frontlines feel like there is no end in sight. 

Infectious disease and healthcare-associated infections also put workers and their patients at extreme risk. According to the articleWe Need More Health Workers to Prevent the Next Pandemic, 2022’, “Around 75% of new infectious diseases are zoonotic—pathogens that leap from animals to humans—and often emerge in rural areas like tropical forests where humans are in close contact with animals they hunt, eat, buy, and sell. Malaria, Zika, HIV/AIDS, Ebola, and some coronaviruses all likely emerged this way.” 

With increasing risks in the field, healthcare workers weigh their health, the risks of exposure to their loved ones, and their pledge for patient care into their day-to-day working dialogue.

Workforce diversity remains a problem.

Another major cause for concern in the workforce is diversity. 

With 70% of the health and social workforce worldwide being women, there is a gender gap in the industry. Another primary consideration in this sector is that the ageing population currently makes up the staff. Recruiting young and diverse hires is a significant need.

Additionally, there remains a problem of racism in healthcare. Racism exists with both patients and workers and within teams and leadership, and the percentage of healthcare workers is disproportionately women of colour. We must prioritize the issue in order to change it. When patients in clinics speak multiple languages and have cultural nuance contributing to their healthcare needs, the need for a more diverse team is crucial. Nevertheless, there are limited options for foreign-born healthcare workers and diversity hires to receive support financially and in terms of ongoing training and growth to serve their communities.

Diversity also leads to another primary issue in the industry: payment equity. Over time, most healthcare workers have prioritized entering specialized fields versus general medicine, like pre-investing in lots of extensive early training to receive unique and specific qualifications. These pieces of training occur ongoing to succeed in their roles but remain underpaid. In a US study on why healthcare workers were leaving in a mass exodus, 31% of them said they considered leaving due to pay and burnout, and 41% said staff shortage was a significant impediment to their work. 

The shortage also impacts educators, limiting training and acquiring relevant educators.

Address healthcare worker shortages

The key to solving extreme and threatening healthcare worker shortages lies in promotion, legislative adoption, and technology. 

Technology’s role

Automation and technology are vital options for lessening the burdens currently placed on teams in the healthcare business. 

Sani Nudge, for example, is an automated tool for measuring hand hygiene levels in healthcare that provides important improvement data to teams. This affordable and comprehensive program reduces hospital costs, prevents absenteeism, and increases patient and staff safety so that doctors, nurses, caretakers, and more staff can support patients first. 

Recently WHO came out to support technologies like Sani Nudge that lessen the manual burden on healthcare workers for tasks such as direct observation in a study published in the BMJ Quality Safety.

Sani Nudge, a group, rooted in Clinical Evidence, prioritises promoting a strong safety culture supporting WHO’s trusted leadership, recommendations, and direction. Well respected former Head of the Infection Prevention Program at the University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland Hugo Sax touches on why this is valued in this popular podcast discussing the strengths and limitations of human beings

Critical statements in this space from WHO include: 

  • “WHO is particularly attentive to encourage innovations, such as non-touch dispensers, automatic monitoring systems, and other technologies….”
  • “WHO strongly recommends hand hygiene as a key performance indicator and a minimum requirement for IPC programs in all countries.” 
  • “Furthermore, refreshing hand hygiene training based on the local results of hand hygiene compliance is another WHO recommendation, as well as an indicator to measure the level of progress of hand hygiene programs.”

Sani Nudge is one of many examples of comprehensive systems in healthcare that supports efforts currently on the significant task list for healthcare workers today. Sani Nudge automates some of the IPC processes to free up healthcare workers to focus on complex and patient-oriented tasks that cannot be automated. It is about using the human resources where needed and letting the automation help where it can. Seven Aghdassi of the  Institute of Hygiene and Environmental Medicine at the recognized Charité University Hospital in Berlin discusses the importance of automation in this sector in a podcast promoting novel approaches in infection prevention.

Post the pandemic onset of remote team learning and development, virtual learning and embracing telehealth programs is another modern working practice. These allow healthcare workers ease of access, especially in those rural areas where staffing is limited. 

Another critical need for technology in this trade is learning and understanding more methodology through data. If hospitals and nursing homes can build out the scope of data to further understand and address the issue.

Legislative efforts and social justice

With the political, social, and economic intricacies involved in increasing the healthcare sector, legislative efforts are a significant focus of growth efforts. 

To increase the need for Higher education to support this issue. Government-subsidized opportunities are needed to ease the pathway for future healthcare employees and grants and programs that pay back loans with service to others.

Policies should find qualified support and attract more future healthcare workers to primary care roles.

As discussed, it is time that we globally do a better job of addressing inequities in healthcare. We will see increased teams by prioritizing diverse hiring practices and programs that support a more diverse workforce. According to the article, “For every $1 a country invests in community health workers, an estimated $10 is returned to society.” This investment is a win-win situation all around. 

Another popular and growing topic is leveraging preventative medicine opportunities to promote public health best and lower the need for medical services.

Finally, healthcare workers need more voice in discussing, sharing, and shaping legislative policies, educational efforts, and healthcare practices. Their feedback is listened to too little and too late. It is time to open the feedback loop and act on the understandable needs of the sector. 

Additional References 

  1. Time. 2022. We Need More Health Workers to Prevent the Next Pandemic. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 23 February 2022].

  2.  Joseph B, Joseph M. The health of the healthcare workers. Indian J Occup Environ Med. 2016;20(2):71-72. doi:10.4103/0019-5278.197518
  3.  Morning Consult. 2022. Nearly 1 in 5 Health Care Workers Have Quit Their Jobs During the Pandemic. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 23 February 2022].
  4. 2022. Diverse March 3, 2022
  5. Benedetta Allegranzi, Claire Kilpatrick, Hugo Sax, Didier Pittet. ‘My five moments for hand hygiene: a user-centered design approach to understand, train, monitor and report hand hygiene. J Hosp Infect. 2007 Sep;67(1):9-21.
  6. Ellie Wishart on LinkedIn: #InfectionPrevention # ….

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