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Nurturing the talents of health workers

An influential group of parliamentarians has launched a report with recommendations for how to improve health outcomes by making better use of health workers.

All the Talents – How new roles and better teamwork can release potential and improve health services argues that countries which are struggling to deliver ambitious health plans won’t succeed without being much more radical about how they develop the roles and nurture the talents of all their health workers.

The report has a very simple message: there is scope to make far better use of the potential of all the people working in healthcare – and this is imperative at a time of health worker shortages and financial constraints.

Making better use of existing health workers

There is a critical shortage of health workers in many lower- and middle-income countries. This has led to experimentation and innovations in the ways existing health workers are deployed and trained.

Groups of health workers with less training are able to develop experience and skills at doing a specific task, freeing up senior staff to provide supervision or undertake more difficult tasks.

For example, in Tanzania, Mozambique and Burkina Faso, mid-level health workers in rural areas have successfully taken on tasks previously done by doctors such as caesarean sections. In Ethiopia, health extension workers have improved detection and treatment of TB and HIV and dramatically increased access to public health services.

Success factors

If changes to a health workforce are planned and managed badly they can lead to poor quality and unsafe services. Done well, they can improve access to services, improve quality and reduce costs.

The keys to success are good leadership and planning; appropriate job design and recruitment; formal training and scope for progression; supervision and referral systems; and recognition for health workers and good teamwork.

The success factors highlighted in the report show changes must not be about pure cost-saving or shifting tasks onto staff with little training. When a health worker takes on a new task or responsibility, it is essential that they are effectively supervised and supported, with clear referral pathways.

Health workers need adequate support, incentives and recognition if they are to be expected to deliver high quality services and stay in their roles for the long term.

This echoes the recommendations made in our own report No Child Out of Reach which calls for a fair wage for all health workers and more effective deployment of health workers to underserved areas.

Action needed

The report urges health professionals to lead the changes and governments around the world to create the environment which will enable this to happen.

It calls on the UK Department for International Development and other donors to assist governments to develop their human resources and workforce planning capacity.

Save the Children welcomes this report and will be working closely with parliamentarians and other partners to ensure that its recommendations are taken forward alongside longer-term efforts to recruit and retain more skilled health workers.

To read the report, visit the APPG on Global Health website.

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