How immigration strengthens the German healthcare system

The COVID-19 crisis shows how Germany has profited from immigration in recent years. [EPA-EFE | Rolex Dela Pena]

In Germany, there has been a shortage of doctors for years. As recently as last year, the German Medical Association warned of “considerable bottlenecks in medical care.” The coronavirus crisis shows how the country has profited from immigration in recent years. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Many of the measures taken by the German government in recent weeks to stem the spread of the coronavirus in Germany have served one purpose: to prevent an overwhelming of the healthcare system.

One group that has been called upon to provide personnel support in the health sector is that of foreign doctors whose accreditation is still pending. The Saxon State Medical Association was one of the pioneers of such initiatives.

“We made the call primarily via Facebook,” says Knut Köhler, spokesman for the Saxon State Medical Association, in a conversation with EURACTIV Germany. Feedback is collected in a database that will be made available to the authorities.

The additional staff would mean a “considerable relief,” even if, due to their status, they could only be deployed under the supervision of licensed physicians, says Köhler.

Around 130 foreign doctors without a licence to practise medicine in Germany have already responded to the call. “In Saxony, we had the great advantage that the number of cases was never so large that external personnel would have been needed,” says Köhler. However, the association is happy to be able to fall back on the lists as a reserve in the case of a second wave.

Calls in several federal states

Two weeks later, the Bavarian State Medical Association followed the Saxon example. To date, more than 660 foreign doctors without a German licence to practise medicine have responded to the call, as of 6 May.

A little later, the government of North Rhine-Westphalia facilitated the professional licensing of foreign doctors to create additional personnel resources and to relieve the burden on hospital staff.

The nationwide online portal “match4healthcare,” which was developed by students and places healthcare professionals and medical students in clinics and nursing homes throughout the country, also went online at the end of March.

Language skills often the biggest hurdle

A prerequisite everywhere is that the professionals have a good knowledge of the German language, which is often a key challenge in obtaining a German licence to practise medicine.

“The language barrier is often the highest hurdle in the licensing process,” Andreas Weber, head of the Further Education Academy of the Economy (FAW), told EURACTIV Germany. The institute supports foreign doctors as well as nursing and health care staff on their way to obtaining the licence to practise medicine by offering specialised language courses in addition to general language courses.

“It is ideal if the participants are already working in the medical field on the side,” he says. To make this possible, the institute works closely with various partners who enable the participants to work in the field.

Immigration particularly strengthens the healthcare sector

According to the Federal Employment Agency, in September 2019, approximately 356,000 people from the so-called “asylum countries of origin” were employed in Germany subject to social security contributions, more than 4% of them in the health care system. These countries include Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria.

A recent study by the Institute of the German Economy (IW) notes the number of foreigners employed in the health care and nursing sector rose significantly between 2014 and 2019.

“The positive effects of migration should not disappear completely from public discourse,” warns Wido Geis-Thöne, Senior Economist for Family Policy at IW and author of the study. Especially in the current crisis, immigrants make a major contribution to improving the situation.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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