2nd Meeting of the UN High Level Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth: opening remarks


Opening remarks by Angel Gurría,

OECD Secretary-General

New York, 19 September 2016

(As prepared for delivery)



Dear President Hollande, President Zuma, Director General Chan, Director General Ryder, Commissioners, Ladies and Gentlemen:


When we met for the first time in Lyon in March, we identified an urgent need for investment to create a fit-for-purpose global health workforce that delivers healthier and more productive populations, supports inclusive economic growth, and helps achieve the ambitious global SDG agenda. 


And we agreed that attaining this goal requires bold, forward-looking and concrete actions. Our goal today is to push this agenda even further. This requires action in at least three areas.


Action One: Changing the narrative ─ good health is an asset to our economies and societies


Good health empowers people to maximise their personal well-being and contribution to society. Moreover, a well-functioning health and social sector is a significant and growing source of jobs, representing 11% of total employment in 2014 across OECD countries. Since 2000, jobs in this sector grew by 48% across the OECD, while jobs in agriculture and manufacturing decreased.


Of course, more jobs alone are not enough. We need health workers with the right skills and in the right places! The data in our Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) show we are falling short in this regard: about half the number of doctors report being under‑skilled for some of the tasks they have to perform, and 80% of nurses report being over‑skilled. The recent OECD report, Health Workforce Policies in OECD Countries: Right Jobs, Right Skills, Right Places, offers a clear roadmap for reversing these trends.


Action Two: Transforming the health workforce ─ ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option


If we continue with the same old policies, we will be stuck with the same problems. Health facilities lacking adequate staffing. Health workers operating in silos. Rural populations suffering limited access to health services. The persistence of preventable diseases. It’s time for a new approach!


Telemedicine initiatives are underway in Canada, Australia, and Finland, among others. But most countries lag behind in promoting innovation in health service delivery and in using technologies in combination with labour for high-performing health systems. We need a health workforce that is fit for the 21st century: technology‑savvy, equipped with not only clinical and data skills, but also with soft skills such as management and care co‑ordination, and with more flexible roles and responsibilities.


Action Three: Working together ─ stronger international co-operation is critical


Around the globe, skills mismatches are increasing and patterns of health workforce migration are growing more complex, often at the expense of the most vulnerable populations.


Nearly all OECD countries have increased the number of students admitted to medical and nursing education since 2000. However, the number of migrant doctors and nurses working in OECD countries from countries with severe health workforce shortages has increased by 84% over the same period. We need effective international co-operation to lessen the undesirable effects of health personnel migration ─ particularly in countries with critical shortages ─ while protecting the right to mobility. Better international co‑operation, along with strengthened inter-sectoral and multi-stakeholder collaboration, will help address health workforce challenges and support efforts to achieve universal health coverage, a key target under SDG3.


Ladies and Gentlemen: The recommendations we agree on today will chart the course for an expanded, transformed, and sustainable global health workforce that will help our economies flourish and achieve their full potential. I look forward to hearing your views on the bold actions required to steer the global health workforce in this direction.


Thank you.