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Social Democratic plan ‘could attract’ foreign workers to Danish health sector

Policies aimed at addressing Denmark’s social and health care labour shortage include making the country a more attractive place to work for foreign professionals, a government minister told The Local on Friday.

Social Democratic plan ‘could attract’ foreign workers to Danish health sector
Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod commented on Denmark's plan to increase personnel numbers in the national health system during a briefing with foreign journalists on October 28th. File photo: Julien Warnand/EPA/Ritzau Scanpix

Attracting foreign professionals is a desired outcome of a government plan to increase wages in parts of the public sector, according to a senior minister.

The objective of the government policy is to “strengthen recruitment within our public healthcare system, where there’s a huge challenge,” Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod told The Local at a press briefing.

“We would also, in a way, allow more people to come from outside to work as nurses or doctors in our healthcare system,” he said.

“But the problem is actually that we have the problem of maintaining [the number of] nurses in the public healthcare system,” he said.

As such, policies proposed by the government are designed to attract and retain public health staff through incentives which could also apply to foreign health professionals, he said.

“What we want to do is make sure it’s attractive enough to be in the public healthcare system,” he said.

The Danish government this week announced a major spending plan aimed at addressing a major labour shortage in public sector professions including health. The government wants to implement the plan if it remains in power after next week’s election.

Presenting the plan on Wednesday, the governing Social Democrats said they will set aside up to three billion kroner for potential health sector pay increases.

While they did not specify professional groups that would benefit most from the spending, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said that there are problems in the “health sector, elderly care, preschool and prison service” and that money must be diverted to areas suffering from a shortage of staff.

READ ALSO: What is in Danish government’s plan for public sector pay?

“For Denmark, it is now one of the most important challenges if we want to continue to have high quality in our healthcare system,” Kofod said.

The last six months has seen more than 15,000 available positions in the social care or SOSU sector go unfilled nationally, according to government figures recently reported by broadcaster DR.

By 2030, Denmark will be short of 16,000 staff for social care jobs, according to the national organisation for municipalities, Kommunernes Landsforening (KL).

Rural municipality Lolland recently announced it had begun hiring staff from Spain, Italy and Hungary to address a local shortage of social care personnel.

Asked whether the government would like this hiring policy to be adopted more broadly, Kofod said that the incentive plan for health professionals was intended to address inequal access to healthcare between regions.

“We have about 600,000 people in Denmark today that are at risk of losing their family doctor because they live in rural areas outside the biggest cities where it’s very hard to have a family doctor because no [health personnel are] there. So we are ready to look at more incentives to put family doctors out in all parts of Denmark,” he said.

“Access to healthcare is very different. People living in the capital, for example: Their healthcare conditions are much better than the ones living in the rural areas, partly because access to healthcare is very different,” he said.

“So we have proposed a lot of ideas… including, also, recruiting from abroad,” he said.

Spending on public sector pay will be phased in from 2024 and would be subject to so-called tripartite negotiations with trade unions and employer representatives, according to the government plan.

The proposal is unusual because it appears to break with the established ‘Danish model’ for labour, whereby labour market representatives – trade unions and employers, including state employers like regional health boards – negotiate and agree on wages and other working terms through collective bargaining or overenskomster. This is normally done without political involvement.

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Denmark considers moving outpatient nurses to night shifts to ease shortage

Danish hospitals could ask nurses that usually work in outpatient services to cover night and weekend shifts in an effort to ease a lack of staff cover.

Denmark considers moving outpatient nurses to night shifts to ease shortage

The Danish Regions, the elected bodies which operate hospitals in Denmark’s five regions, are considering a plan to require nurses who work at outpatient clinics to fill night and weekend shifts in hospitals, newspaper Jyllands-Posten reports.

The policy would aim to prevent hospital nurses — particularly those working in intensive care, surgery, and emergency departments — from leaving the public system for more favourable working conditions at private clinics. 

Nurses in departments with shift rotas bear the brunt of a nurse labour shortage, meaning many must take on an untenable number of night and weekend shifts as many of their colleagues leave, according to the report.

“The lack of staff is currently the biggest challenge for the health service and a more transparent and fair rota, in which staff have an input on their schedules, is one of the most important keys to becoming a more attractive place of work and retaining personnel,” Stephanie Lose, chair of the Southern Denmark regional council and vice-president of the Danish Regions, told Jyllands-Posten.

“We have to share the heavy on-call load on to more shoulders, and our clear message is that all hospitals must work with this systematically in all areas, otherwise we will not achieve our goal,” she said.

The Danish Regions want to base the plan on a model already used in the South Denmark region, according to Jyllands-Posten.

This would mean staff having rotas with at least eight weeks’ notice, and weekend shifts no more often than every third week.

The Regions also propose that nurses employed in outpatient clinics spend a third of their working time on the schedule in an inpatient ward.

The leader of Danish trade union for nurses DSR, Grete Christensen, did not dismiss the prospect in comments to Jyllands-Posten.

Christensen warned against forcing all hospitals and departments to comply with a defined model, however.

She said that the essence of the problem is a lack of nurses in the public health system.

READ ALSO: Denmark takes ‘far too long’ to approve qualifications of foreign medics, nurses