Healthcare workers are leaving in droves, sector faces crisis

A doctor checking the pulse of a patient on an infusion

Care workers are leaving the profession in their droves and sick leave figures are up for the fifth year in a row, the Volkskrant said on Tuesday, citing an analysis of  674 care company annual accounts.

The report, published by accountancy group EY, found that sick leave had risen to ‘a record level’ of 5.9% over 2018 and that 15.7 % of care workers had left the profession for other jobs. Disabled care, elderly care and psychiatric care in particular are struggling, the report said.

A sick leave percentage of four is considered high and six percent is alarming, labour market professor Ton Wilthagen told the paper. ‘The healthcare sector itself has fallen sick. This is not people throwing a sickie every now and again. People really don’t want to abandon their clients.’

The most pressing problems in healthcare are an excessive workload and too much paperwork. As more people are leaving, more work has to done by the people who remain and that drives up sick rates among care staff. ‘It’s a vicious circle which a couple of government programmes can’t fix. The cutbacks of the crisis have hit hard and it will take a long time to turn this around,’ Wilthagen said.

In a response the ministry said it was ‘worried’ about the figures but that the sector is beginning to recuperate. ‘We see many more people opt for a job in care. We must also make sure they stay. That means fewer unnecessary rules, a normal workload and fixed contracts, ’ health minister Hugo de Jonge and medical care minister Bruno Bruins said in a joint statement to the paper.


Union FNV said the government campaigns are geared towards recruitment but that young people are quick to leave once they experience the workload. ‘They are motivated when they do their apprenticeship but the reality of shift work and having to cover for others is a rude awakening. Young people refuse to be taken advantage of. They go elsewhere,’ union spokesperson Elise Merlijn told the paper.

The current wage negotiations are slow, with thousands of youth care workers out on strike on Monday, and unions critical of employers’ negotiating tactics. ‘Employers contemptuously throw a proposal on the table and then the intimidation and ignoring starts,’ Merlijn said. ‘But we’re on code red and if nothing changes the situation is going to become critical.’

The association for care institutions Actiz told the paper a successful accord won’t solve the problems. ‘We simply have too few people for the kind of healthcare that we are offering,’ Jacqueline Joppe told the paper. Joppe said the solution partly lies in involving non-healthcare workers and technology.

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