Monday

16th Sep 2019

Medical staff exodus takes toll on new member states

  • Romanian doctors and nurses working abroad can earn ten times more than at home (Photo: wikipedia)

The free movement of doctors and mutual recognition of medical degrees across the EU is fueling an east-west migration at the expense of poor and under-staffed medical systems in new member states.

Job fairs for fresh graduates are fairly common in any EU country. But in new member states, a new breed of job fairs has emerged. This past week-end, NES Healthcare, a British company, held such a fair in Bucharest, offering young Romanian doctors short- and medium-term jobs in the UK.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

English language skills and two years of experience after graduation were the minimum requirements for landing a job in a British hospital, for salaries as much as ten times higher than those in Romania.

The event was by no means unique. In October, a similar medical career job fair advertised job offers in French, German, Belgian and Scandinavian hospitals for salaries ranging between €3,000 and €7,000 a month. In Romania, the EU's newest member state, a specialised radiologist, for instance, earns €500 a month, while living costs and food prices are comparable to those of Western states.

Ever since it joined the EU in 2007, Romania, similar with other new member states, is facing an exodus of its 'white-coat' staff. Unlike for construction workers, doctors and nurses from this new member country face no restriction on the labour markets in old member states.

Some 5,000 medical staff out of the 41,000 employed in the public health system have left in the last three years. "The loss is huge. The World Health Organisation says that when doctors' migration exceeds two percent, the state must declare a code red and take measures to counteract the trend. In Romania, they should have declared a code 'super-red'," Vasile Astarastoae, the head of the Romanian Medical Council told Realitatea TV last month.

Over 2,000 other doctors and nurses are expected to leave the country in the first quarter of 2010, as they have signed up to offers put out in job fairs such as the one that took place over the past weekend.

The white-coat staff brain drain is particularly worrying since Romania has the lowest density of physicians per inhabitants in Europe.

The last study carried out by the EU commission in 2008, which is however based on 2005 data, shows Romania and Poland with the lowest density of practicing physicians per 100,000 inhabitants, at around 30 percent below the EU average.

Poor working conditions, long hours, pay cuts - especially due to the current budgetary policies imposed by the International Monetary Fund bailout - are even more reasons for Romanian doctors to eye jobs abroad.

"I think it's undoubtedly a problem when richer countries are sucking trained manpower from poorer ones. But the economic drivers will be there until there are comparable salaries and working conditions across the EU," David Gordon, head of the Association of Medical Schools in Europe told this website.

There is not much Brussels can do against this east-west migration, as the European Commission is supposed to safeguard freedom of movement and services across the bloc, not to hamper it, Mr Gordon said.

However, restrictions could be taken at national level, for instance in linking free medical education to a minimum of years spent in the country's hospitals.

Indeed, the commission's initiatives in this field so far have stressed that "the response to tackling the effects of increased mobility is not to introduce legal restrictions to the free movement of students or workers." Instead, the EU executive pleads for better co-ordination between member states and more information on the flow of medical staff.

Small constituencies

Similar to Romania, the Czech Republic has also experienced a steady flow of doctors heading abroad. Patric Tomasch is one of them. After having worked in several German hospitals, he returned to Prague and started up a small recruiting company for Czech and Slovak doctors.

"In the Czech Republic, doctors are a small constituency, so politicians don't really care about them. They've been letting them go for a number of years now. Recently, the government has started to campaign for Romanian doctors to replace the missing Czech employees," he told EUobserver.

Similar to other professionals, Mr Tomasch does not favour EU-wide restrictions on the free movement of doctors. "Most of these Czech and Slovak doctors will return home anyway after some time. The solution is to pay them better in their home countries and they will not leave," he argues.

EUobserver's special focus section delves into the challenges confronting healthcare, this most cherished element of the European welfare state. See more: Health Focus

Focus

Ageing Europe forcing change to EU health services

Europe is steadily greying. Already the oldest continent in the world, figures for the EU's 27 member states show that by 2060, the ratio of people of working age to those over age 65 will be two to one while the over 80s is likely to be the fastest growing segment. The changing demographics have profound implications for health services across the EU.

EU ponders swine flu vaccine glut

The outbreak of swine flu in North America last April and subsequent spread around the globe lead the World Health Organisation to rapidly raise its pandemic alert warnings in the following weeks, reaching a maximum Phase Six on 11 June 2009. But now, less than a year later, several EU countries find themselves among a list of states with an excessive stockpile of a hastily-made vaccine.

Tuberculosis' deadly return to Europe

Experts worry that Europe, which spent millions battling a Swine flu that killed 14,000 last year, is at a loss when dealing with the threat from the more mundane but far more lethal tuberculosis, which strikes down 1.77 million people annually.

Agenda

Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK

Jean-Claude Juncker will meet Boris Johnson for the first time, but no breakthrough is expected in Brexit talks. MEPs are preparing to hear from the commission-designates, while Hungary will be grilled at the EU affairs' ministers meeting.

News in Brief

  1. Nearly 100 refugees evacuated from Libya to Italy
  2. Juncker to meet Johnson on Monday
  3. First Hungary 'Article 7' hearing set for Monday
  4. Vestager picks Danish EU ambassador as cabinet head
  5. Commissioner hearings will start 30 September
  6. Italy says EU countries agree to take in rescued migrants
  7. Germany to organise Libya conference on arms embargo
  8. European Parliament to support another Brexit delay

Agenda

Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK

Jean-Claude Juncker will meet Boris Johnson for the first time, but no breakthrough is expected in Brexit talks. MEPs are preparing to hear from the commission-designates, while Hungary will be grilled at the EU affairs' ministers meeting.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK
  2. As recession looms Europe needs more spending
  3. How should the EU handle Russia now?
  4. EU defence bravado criticised by auditors
  5. Central European leaders demand EU Balkan accession
  6. Luxembourg's cannabis legalisation is EU opportunity
  7. The Catalan National Day has been a success. Why?
  8. Why I'm voting against the von der Leyen commission

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us