How can the migration of health service professionals be managed so as to reduce any negative effects on supply?

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Key messages of this publication

  • The international migration of health professionals has been a growing feature of the global health agenda since the late 1990s. In Europe, the accession of more countries to the European Union (EU) since 2004 has increased the scope for mobility among health workers and raised additional issues within the European context.
  • The dynamics of international mobility, migration and recruitment are complex, including individual motives and the different approaches of governments to managing, facilitating or attempting to limit the outflow or inflow of health workers.
  • Health worker migration can have positive and negative aspects. It can be a solution to staff shortages in some countries, can assist countries that have an oversupply of staff, and can be a means by which individual health workers can improve their opportunities and standard of living. Nevertheless, it can also create (additional) shortages of health workers in countries that are already understaffed and undermine the quality of and access to health care. It can also affect the morale of the health workforce.
  • There are various types of migration, which may have different effects and require different types of policy attention, and which vary according to whether a country is a source of or a destination for health workers.
  • Migration of health workers is part of the broader dynamic of change and mobility within health care labour markets and in terms of policy should not be addressed in isolation.
  • To meet the policy challenges and to manage migration, three areas of action are required: improving the available data on migratory flows of health professionals so that monitoring of trends in flows can be more effective; paying more detailed attention to options to manage the processes of migration in order to reduce any negative effects on supply of health professionals; and in all affected countries, ensuring that human resource policies, planning and practice in the health sector are effective and thus allow supply to be better maintained.