Minister’s speech at the Opening Ceremony of the Global Forum on Human Resources for Health

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Good afternoon and I’d like to extend a very warm welcome to you all to the 4th Global Forum on Human Resources for Health here in Dublin. The delegate list for the Forum is very impressive with more than 1000 colleagues, policy-makers and researchers attending from every corner of the world. The attendance of so many delegates from across the globe demonstrates the importance of this event and highlights that the Human Resources for Health agenda transcends geographical and political borders.

Health workers are the backbone of sustainable health systems and are fundamental to achieving universal health coverage. Tackling 21st Century health workforce challenges requires us to think, work and respond nationally, regionally and globally.

This Forum provides a stepping stone on the road to meeting these challenges and I hope that you will all benefit from the interesting discussions and debates that will take place here this week.

Recognise issues across the globe
As delegates are aware, the serious consequences that can result from health worker shortages have led to an increasing focus around the world on the importance of human resources for health. This focus is shared by international and regional institutions including the World Health Organization and the European Union.

As in many parts of the world, the health sector in my own country is experiencing challenges in the recruitment and retention of health professionals, including doctors and nurses.

In common with other countries, this challenge will become even more pronounced in the coming decades. Global, regional and national health workforce demand is expected to increase in the years ahead. This increase comes as a direct consequence of population and economic growth, combined with demographic and epidemiological changes as well as other factors.

As I’m sure you are all aware, the WHO predicts a global deficit of 18 million skilled health workers by 2030 while in the European region, the European Commission has estimated a potential shortfall of around 1 million health workers by 2020. There is no doubt that meeting that shortfall will be difficult but it is a challenge that we must work together to achieve.

4th Global Forum
In this context, Ireland is honoured to host this 4th Global Forum, – the first to be held in Europe. We take up the mantle from Uganda, Thailand and, most recently, Brazil. I would like to extend a special word of thanks and welcome to the representatives of the hosts of previous fora, who took part in the ‘passing of the baton’ presentation.

We have heard from Dil about the commitments made and actions which emanated from those events. Following the Third Global Forum in Recife, Brazil in 2013, a number of commitments were made by countries to support the transformation of the landscape for health workers. Underpinned by the WHO Global Code of Practice on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel, these commitments included: increasing financial resources, improving governance and use of existing resources, strengthening workforce information systems and adopting innovative solutions.

Global Strategy/High-Level Commission Report
These commitments have supported substantial progress on the global human resources for health agenda in the four years since Recife. In 2016, at the 69th World Health Assembly, we saw the adoption of the Global Strategy on Human Resources for Health: Workforce 2030 which established global milestones for 2020 and 2030 aimed at ensuring equitable access to health workers.
One of the main recommendations of the strategy is the implementation of Human Resource for Health plans as part of long-term national health strategies. I will discuss actions that we are taking in this area in Ireland in a moment.

2016 also saw the launch of the report of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth. This report highlights the benefits of increasing and transforming investments in the health workforce. It also recommends the development of inter-sectoral plans to transform education, skills and job creation in the health sector.

Five immediate actions were recommended in the report and a five-year action plan for implementation by the WHO, the ILO and the OECD, in collaboration with member states was adopted by the World Health Assembly in May of this year. This action-plan will support country-driven implementation of the Commission’s recommendations.

In the WHO European region, the Global Strategy on Human Resources for Health has now been translated by the WHO Regional Office into a regional framework for action. This framework was adopted by all member states of the region, as a resolution at the Regional committee in Budapest in September this year.

While, in the EU, health workforce planning and forecasting capacity has been developed through an EU Joint Action, with plans now underway for a network of health workforce planners across Europe to carry out further research and knowledge exchange.

Ireland / Framework
These international and regional developments are very welcome and will assist Ireland in our national efforts.

As I mentioned earlier, the health sector in Ireland is already experiencing challenges in the recruitment and retention of health professionals. In addition, we are both a source and destination country for health workers.

Ireland is fully committed to implementing the WHO Global Code on the International Recruitment of Health Personnel and considers it a key framework for addressing the health workforce challenges that we face.

Using the Code’s guiding principles, we are taking steps at national level to stabilise the health workforce and build a sustainable, resilient workforce for the future.

Today, I am delighted to announce the launch of Ireland’s National Strategic Framework for Health and Social Care Workforce Planning, which was recently approved by Government. This Framework will support the recruitment and retention of the right mix of health workers across the Irish health system to meet planned and projected service need.

The Framework was developed by an intersectoral Steering Group, led by my Department and including key Government Departments and agencies in the health, education and children’s sectors, in addition to health workforce researchers and academics. A full public consultation process was carried out over the summer period and the framework was finalised taking stakeholder feedback into account.

The objective of the framework is to identify, agree and implement appropriate solutions to health workforce challenges – either within the health sector or inter-sectorally with education and other partners.

The structures and processes to be established under the Framework are characterised by cross-sectoral collaboration and engagement. And, as recommended in the report of the High-Level Commission, it is our aspiration that all relevant stakeholders will feed into the process of health workforce planning.

Implementing the framework will be a multi-annual undertaking and we will take a stepwise approach. The first action plan is for an 18 month period and focuses on the early actions we need to take to build health workforce planning capacity in the health sector, and enhance engagement between the health and education sectors. Key actions will include:
• establishing the governance and oversight structures,
• building communications and engagement processes with stakeholders,
• developing protocols for engagement between the education and health sectors, and
• building the evidence base.

What the forum hopes to achieve / Conclusion
There is an old Irish saying – Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine – literally, ‘we live in each other’s shadow’. No one country or organisation can build the health workforce of the future. That is why this Global Forum is so important. The Forum provides an opportunity for all stakeholders to discuss and debate innovative approaches towards advancing the implementation of the Global Strategy and the UN High Level Commission’s recommendations. It will also enable us, the makers of health policy, to show a collective commitment to developing and making available the workforce required to deliver the health services needed by our citizens now and in the future.
I am confident that the Dublin Forum will successfully build on the achievements of the previous fora and that its outcomes will be instrumental in developing a pathway towards equitable access to health workers within strengthened health services. I hope you enjoy your stay in Dublin and make the most of the many interesting discussions that are scheduled to take place over the course of the week.

I also hope you are able to make the most of the many attractions offered by Dublin city. I know we have a major football match taking place just down the road from us here tonight and if the result goes our way, this is likely to be a good night to be in Dublin. So, I will finish my address with an encouragement to enjoy the event and your time in our capital city (even if you’re from Denmark!).


Read the Framework document here