Health worker shortages ‘lead to excess deaths’ – study

Healthcare worker shortages could lead to excess deaths, a new study suggests.

Academics, led by a team from the School of Public Health at Peking University in China, assessed mortality data between 1990 and 1999 and compared it to the ratio of healthcare workers for every 10,000 people in 172 countries around the world.

They looked across a number of health professionals and at various different types of causes of death.

They found that countries with fewer healthcare workers were more likely to have higher rates of excess deaths, especially for pregnancy and birth complications, diabetes, kidney diseases, malaria and some tropical diseases.

While healthcare workforce inequalities have been decreasing in the last three decades, the differences are still having an impact on death rates around the world, the authors wrote in The BMJ.

The team examined levels of “human resources for health” – or the workforce – including doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists and other health professions.

They found that around the world, the total health workforce per 10,000 population increased from 56 in 1990 to 143 in 2019.

Meanwhile, the “all cause aged standardised death rate” decreased from 996 per 100,000 population in 1990 to 744 per 100,000 in 2019.

They found that the risk of death was more likely to be higher for people from countries with a lower numbers of doctors, dentistry staff, pharmaceutical staff, aides and emergency medical workers, optometrists, psychologists, personal care workers, physiotherapists and radiographers.

Sweden had the highest number of workforce, with 696 health workers for every 10,000 people, while the lowest numbers were seen in Ethiopia, where there were just 14 health workers per 10,000 people.

The authors called for more work to “strengthen equity oriented health workforce policies” around the world.

The NHS in England currently has about 124,000 vacancies with a workforce plan to boost the numbers of people working in the NHS expected shortly.