Healthcare costs to double in 20 years; massive staff shortage looming

Healthcare costs in the Netherlands will double in the next 20 years. And in order to keep up with the rising demand for care, while maintaining the current level and quality of care, some 70 thousand extra healthcare workers will be needed in the next two decades. The government needs to intervene now if it wants to maintain the country's current healthcare standards, let alone improve on them, social economic council SER said in a report published on Friday.

The Netherlands population is growing ever older, also meaning that they need more care. That means higher healthcare costs, which are expected to increase from the current 87 billion euros to 174 billion euros in 2040.  It also means that more manpower will be needed. Currently around 1.4 million people work in healthcare. The SER estimates that over 2 million healthcare workers will be needed by 2040 if the country wants to maintain the quality and availability of care. 

The Ministry of Public Health asked the SER to investigate rising healthcare costs two years ago. The report was supposed to be published in March, but was postponed due to the coronavirus crisis. According to the SER, the coronavirus crisis stressed the necessity of sufficient healthcare workers. "The corona crisis magnified our conclusion. Namely that we are going to be short of many people," SER chairman Mariette Hamer said to NOS. 

The coronavirus crisis will likely lead to many people losing their jobs in the coming period, and they could be potential candidates for healthcare workers. But only if the profession is made more attractive, Hamer said. Particular attention should be paid to the workload. "People now often feel that they have to work in a straitjacket of rules," she said to NOS. "If we find healthcare so important, let's ensure that more people will take this job. And that we give the people who work there more space."

In order to manage the ever increasing costs of care it is important to carefully consider what is and what is not covered by health insurance packages, according to the SER. That also means reevaluating the basic health insurance package. "In general, the tendency is that things come into the package more easily than they leave. You must avoid that, otherwise there will be obvious growth. If you add something, you also have to see what you can take out." 

The SER pointed out that all hospital treatments are currently reimbursed by health insurance packages as standard, but medicines gotten from a pharmacy are first assessed on what they cost and what health benefits they yield. That is a skewed approach that needs to be addressed, the Council said. "We do not speak out about what belongs in the package," Hamers stressed to AD. But equal treatment is important, she added. "Also those specialist medical treatments in the package should continually be scrutinized. Then the following applies: do we want to offer this care at this price and is this sensible care." The Council also wants doctors and patients to always discuss "which treatment is and which is not desirable."

The SER noted that the coronavirus crisis accelerated the digitization of healthcare, especially when it comes to digital instead of in-person consultation. But there is still a lot of room for further improvement. The electronic patient file in particular has been neglected for too long, the Council said. Privacy concerns have always been the main reason for not digitizing patient data, but many of these objections are no longer applicable and it is time for the government to take action, the SER said. 

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