Global health workforce strategies to address the COVID-19 pandemic: Learning lessons for the future

Int J Health Plann Manage. 2024 Jan 17. doi: 10.1002/hpm.3762. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

COVID-19 put unprecedented strain on the health and care workforce (HCWF). Yet, it also brought the HCWF to the forefront of the policy agenda and revealed many innovative solutions that can be built upon to overcome persistent workforce challenges. In this perspective, which draws on a Policy Brief prepared for the WHO Fifth Global Forum on Human Resources for Health, we present findings from a scoping review of global emergency workforce strategies implemented during the pandemic and consider what we can learn from them for the long-term sustainability of the HCWF. Our review shows that strategies to strengthen HCWF capacity during COVID-19 fell into three categories: (1) surging supply of health and care workers (HCWs); (2) optimizing the use of the workforce in terms of setting, skills and roles; and (3) providing HCWs with support and protection. While some initiatives were only short-term strategies, others have potential to be continued. COVID-19 demonstrated that changes to scope-of-practice and the introduction of team-based roles are possible and central to an effective, sustainable workforce. Additionally, the use of technology and digital tools increased rapidly during COVID-19 and can be built on to enhance access and efficiency. The pandemic also highlighted the importance of prioritizing the security, safety, and physical and mental health of workers, implementing measures that are gender and equity-focused, and ensuring the centrality of the worker perspective in efforts to improve HCWF retention. Flexibility of regulatory, financial, technical measures and quality assurance was critical in facilitating the implementation of HCWF strategies and needs to be continued. The lessons learned from COVID-19 can help countries strengthen the HCWF, health systems, and the health and well-being of all, now and in the future.

Keywords: COVID-19; health systems policy; healthcare policy; healthcare workforce; human resources for health.