February 26. 2024. 5:42

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Health brief: The ‘unsafe’ world of healthcare workers


European doctors are sounding the alarm over the growing incidence of physical and verbal aggression against healthcare workers.

All around the world, up to 38% of health workers suffer physical violence at some point in their careers, according to the latest figures released by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in February 2022.

Many more are threatened or exposed to verbal aggression too, the WHO found.

In Europe, violence against healthcare professionals is increasing at an “alarming rate”, according to the Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME).

“We need to recognise the impact of violence on healthcare professionals, which in the end affects not only the workforce but patient care”, CPME President Dr Christiaan Keijzer said in a statement on Sunday (12 March), marking the European awareness day of violence against doctors and other healthcare professionals.

Violence against the healthcare workforce includes physical and verbal violence with multiple consequences on the victims’ health such as physical injuries and impacts on mental health.

In the most extreme cases, aggression can lead to death, European doctors warned.

In France, the average of healthcare workers reporting frequent physical assaults in hospitals is almost as high as in the EU, with 37% of hospital health professionals regularly assaulted, according to figures from the French Ministry of Health.

For this reason, the ministry announced on 3 February that a control plan would be put in place by the summer.

“It is essential to rely on healthcare professionals as well as all stakeholders and actors involved in caregiver safety to think of effective measures that correspond to their daily expectations and constraints.”, said Agnès Firmin Le Bodo, the minister of territorial organization and health professions.

Nurses and women more at risk

Some categories of healthcare professionals are more at risk of violence: nurses and other staff directly involved in patient care, emergency room staff and paramedics, according to the WHO.

“Nurses as a group, and women in particular, appear to be especially vulnerable, with double the risk of being the victims of violence”, the European Federation of Nurses Associations (EFN) stated in a press release published in November 2022.

A survey by EFN with data gathered in 2021 found that 28 national nurses’ associations across Europe confirmed almost unanimously that violence against nurses is a significant concern and does not always come from patients.

In 2020, women represented 78% of the healthcare workforce, according to Eurostat. Across the bloc, the share varies from 61% in Greece to over 90% in Estonia and Latvia.

“Representative associations from Denmark, Portugal, and the UK pointed out that up to 30% of nurses are potentially subject to sexual harassment in the workplace”, EFN’s survey found, while in Germany up to 41% of nurses reported abuse from other health professionals.

“In terms of health workers, this [harassment] is something that has been looked at. Women are a large part of the healthcare workforce in the UE,” Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told EURACTIV in a recent interview.

Calling on the Commission to take actions

Another worrying set of data was released in early March by the tripartite European Union Agency, whose role is to provide knowledge in the area of social and work-related policies.

The study said that health professionals in the EU are three times more likely to report unwanted sexual attention. Likewise, healthcare and protective services workers are 2-3 times more likely to report bullying, harassment, and violence.

The condition of ‘burnout’ due to the increasing number of aggressions is becoming “a growing factor in professionals choosing to leave the health sector altogether”, according to CPME.

In the long run, this could compromise the quality of care and put the healthcare provision at risk, something that is considered by the WHO as a potential “immense financial loss” for the health sector.

“It is critical to promote a culture of respect for healthcare professionals, and provide resources to report and support incidences when violence occurs”, CPME’s Keijzer said.

The doctors’ association called on the Commission to support governments by providing benchmarks for minimum workforce capacities and addressing healthcare professionals in the upcoming comprehensive approach to mental health.

“The health workforce is already in crisis. We call for policymakers and the general public to help keep healthcare professionals safe”, CPME’s Keijzer concluded.

Unboxing the EU’s medical devices rules

This week, EURACTIV’s health journalists Marta Iraola and Gerardo Fortuna dig into the troubled implementation of the new framework for medical devices in Europe which entered into force in 2021. When developers of medical devices started experiencing problems in meeting …

Re-negotiating Pfizer vaccine contracts. Bulgaria, Poland, Lithuania, and Hungary have demanded that the European Commission renegotiate the conditions for the supply of COVID vaccines manufactured by Pfizer. EURACTIV Bulgaria has the story.

New pharma rules at the finishing line. With only a few weeks before unveiling the EU’s revamped framework for pharmaceuticals, Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides described the main drivers of the much-awaited reform, stressing the importance of finding the balance between patients’ and industry’s interests.

New tools to fight ‘medical deserts’. The risk of unmet medical needs increases as certain medical examinations and treatments can be accessed only in the biggest hospitals, resulting in late diagnosis and worsening chronic conditions for those living in rural and remote areas across Europe. But innovative tools such as remote patient monitoring (RPM) solutions might change the situation in rural and remote areas.

Medical devices and EHDS. The revolutionary EU health data space (EHDS) has been hailed as the dawn of a new era for medical devices, but its proper implementation presents the sector with challenges on regulatory aspects and confidentiality of business information.

Avian flu: still low risk for humans. Avian influenza outbreaks will increase in the poultry sector along with occasional infections in mammals, but this poses minimal risk for humans, concludes a new report by scientific EU agencies.

Lack of rehabilitative care in Ukraine. Ukraine is in urgent need of more rehabilitation care centres, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on 7 March as conflict and civilian casualties reach into the thousands.

No baby boom during COVID. In 2021, 4.09 million babies were born in the EU, according to fresh data released by the European statistical bureau (EUROSTAT). This is a slight increase compared with 2020 when 4.07 million babies were born. Overall, there has been a downward trend in the number of children born in the EU, which began in 2008 (4.68 million children).

STOCKHOLM

Swedish meat consumers must eat local, says agriculture minister. Meat consumers who care about the environment must choose Swedish meat, said Agriculture Minister Peter Kullgren, while Swedish experts believe the problem with meat lies elsewhere. By Charles Szumski | EURACTIV.com

BERLIN

Berlin aims to fend off drug shortages without general price adjustments. A draft law tabled by the German government aims to avert drug shortages in the face of rising production costs. But generics producers warn that the plans are inadequate and broader price adjustments are needed to reach this goal. By Julia Dahm | EURACTIV.de

WARSAW

Poland cuts funding for Ukrainian refugees by half. Ukrainian refugees in Poland will have to cover half of their accommodation costs from March onwards, according to plans the European Commission says it was not notified of. By Aleksandra Krzysztoszek | EURACTIV.pl

PARIS

Macron wants Constitution to include right to abortion. French President Emmanuel Macron is in favour of enshrining the woman’s right to abortion into the Constitution, and he plans to introduce a bill before parliament in the next months. By Clara Bauer | EURACTIV.fr

SOFIA

Cigarette smuggling levels in Bulgaria reach record low. Bulgaria recorded a record low level of 1.5% illegal cigarettes being distributed in the country at the end of 2022, data from the Initiative against Illegal Trade, in which the country’s major distributors of tobacco products take part, show. By Krasen Nikolov | EURACTIV.bg

ZAGREB

Weight-loss anxious Croats rush to get diabetes drug. Ozempic, a prescription drug for diabetes, has become impossible to find in Croatia because hundreds of Croats are using it to lose weight, Slobodna Dalmacija daily reported. The phenomenon has already been seen in the US, where the injectable drug – used to help adults with type 2 diabetes – has also been registered as therapy for weight loss. “If the shortages persist, there is a replacement therapy, but if that replacement therapy should become unavailable, then diabetes sufferers will face a big problem,” warned Zrinka Mach, head of the national diabetes association.

13-16 March – European Parliament’s plenary

14-15 March – #ShiningALight exhibition in Strasbourg

16 March – Management board meeting of the European Medicines Agency

16 March – EU Council working party on pharmaceuticals and medical devices

16 March – Webinar: WHO costing & budgeting tool for national action plans on AMR – A review and country experiences

16-17 March – Second high-level interregional meeting on the health of refugees and migrants organised by the WHO

21-23 March – European Health Tech Summit

21 March – The Future of European Pain Research

22-23 March – European Parliament’s environment and health committee meeting

27-28 March – International Medical Devices Regulators Forum