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HEALTH

‘We need immigration’: Austrian minister insists foreign workers are the only solution

Austria needs thousands of nurses and doctors to avoid a collapse in the health sector and the only solution is immigration, the government's health minister warned on Tuesday.

Austria is experiencing a shortage of nurses. Photo by Luis Melendez on Unsplash
Austria is experiencing a shortage of nurses. Photo by Luis Melendez on Unsplash

Austria has a big problem to solve in the short term: its labour shortage in the health sector.

It’s a demographic issue, with thousands of doctors and nurses expected to retire in the coming years, but also a labour one.

The country’s health minister, Johannes Rauch (Greens), said on Tuesday the only solution for this problem is to turn abroad to attract professionals.

“We have a labour shortage in Austria and will need immigration in the health and social sector. We can’t solve it any other way. It simply doesn’t work out in terms of demographics”, he told the daily Der Standard.

What is the current situation in Austria and what will the government do?

Many staff have given up the health profession citing the long hours, stressful work days and salaries they say are just not worth the pressure that comes with the job.

The Covid-19 pandemic merely increased the pressure on doctors and nurses forcing them to work yet longer hours.

“You only hear terrible things about working hours, pay and more from the nursing profession at the moment,” said Katharina Reich, Chief Medical Officer.

READ ALSO: More pay and longer holidays: How Austria hopes to attract 75,000 new nurses

Earlier this year, the Federal Government unveiled a €1 billion reform package to improve working conditions for health sector professionals. At the time, health minister Rauch said that the package would include higher salaries for nurses.

“There will be massive measures to make the nursing profession more attractive”, the minister said when the package was unveiled in May.

He said the ministry hoped simplifying processes would help bring 75,000 workers to the sector by 2030.

Rauch didn’t specify how they would attract foreign workers. Currently, getting a visa and having your qualifications accepted to practise medicine and work in the health sector is a lengthy and costly process in Austria.

READ ALSO: Reader question: How can foreign doctors practise medicine in Austria?

As part of the government measures announced in May, nurses who complete vocational training will receive “significantly more” points to access the so-called Rot Weiss Rot (RWR) residence permit in the future.

The government will also increase the points for older professionals, facilitating the entry of nurses from 40 to 50 years old.

RWR applicants need to reach a certain threshold of points based on criteria including age and education to get the permit.

READ ALSO: How Austria is making it easier for non-EU workers to get residence permits

The government promised that the recognition of training acquired abroad would be significantly simplified, accelerated and made free the burden of paperwork, but not much has been announced since May.

However, nurses should be able to work as nursing assistants until their foreign qualifications are formally recognised in the future. Still, no changes have been officially introduced yet.

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HEALTH

Reader question: How to get a flu vaccination in Austria?

Austrian doctors and virologists have warned of a particularly strong flu wave this winter and recommend that people get vaccinated. Here's how to get the shot in each province.

Reader question: How to get a flu vaccination in Austria?

Austrian experts have said there would likely be an exceptionally high wave of the flu after hardly any cases were registered in the past two years. The measures against Covid-19 prevented infections with Sars-CoV-2 – and curbed the spread of influenza and other cold viruses.

This is about to change this season as Covid measures were relaxed and airborne viruses spread again, they said.

In principle, the influenza vaccination protects against symptomatic infection for four months: “About 80 percent for H1 viruses, about 50 to 60 percent for H3 strains and 60 to 70 percent for B viruses,” said Monika Redlberger-Fritz, a virologist from Med-Uni Vienna.

READ ALSO: Colds and flu: What to do and say if you get sick in Austria

She added: “But even with vaccine breakthroughs, you are still very well protected against complications, hospitalisations and death.”

Unlike the Covid-19 vaccination, the flu jab is not organised by the federal government but by the respective provinces, which file a report only after the flu season. In every province, the vaccine is free for children, but many ask adults to pay for a fee or get it from their doctors. In Vienna, the flu vaccination is free for everyone.

Here is how to get the vaccine in each province in campaigns carried out with the participation or knowledge of the government – companies and private insurance institutions can also start their own vaccination campaigns.

Vienna

Vienna offers free flu vaccinations for every resident. You can register online with the impfservice.wien or visit one of the centres that accept people without appointments (for example, the Austria Center Vienna). 

All that is necessary is for you to bring a document with your picture and wear an FFP2 mask. If you have an e-card and a vaccination passport, bring those with you as well. There is also a form to fill out, but those are available on-site.  

Lower Austria

The flu vaccine is free for children from six months to 15-years-old, and they can get the shot from established medical specialists. For those who are older, it is possible to receive the vaccination from a registered specialist, company medical service or from their employer, but they may be charged for it.

Residents of elderly and care homes get the vaccination free of charge in the facility where they live.

You can check more about the vaccination with your family doctor and paediatrician.

Upper Austria

Children aged six months to 15 can get the vaccine for free with their general practitioners and paediatricians. However, you may need to get the vaccine components at the pharmacy with a voucher and register with your doctor.

Older people can get the vaccination directly at vaccination sites in their district for €15. Residents of elderly and care homes get the vaccination free of charge in the facility where they live.

Styria

In Styria, children from six months to age 15 get the vaccine for free with paediatricians or public health services of their district authorities.  Older adults can get it from the public health service for €16 or €27 if they are older than 65. 

Residents of elderly and care homes get the vaccination free of charge in the facility where they live.

You can check more about the vaccination with your family doctor and paediatrician.

Carinthia

Children (from six months to 15 years) can get the vaccine for free in doctor’s offices or public health centres. You can check HERE for more information and register. For older people, the price is €22, though prices could be different if you go to your doctor instead of a vaccination centre.

Residents of elderly and care homes get the vaccination free of charge in the facility where they live.

Burgenland

Children aged six months to 15 years can get the vaccine free in pharmacies and with their physicians. At-risk patients older than that can also get free vaccines, but only while supplies last. 

Otherwise, buying and paying for the vaccine in a pharmacy or with your general practitioner is possible. There are also free vaccinations in elderly and care homes. 

You can check more about the vaccination with your family doctor and paediatrician.

Salzburg

Children from six months to 15 years can get the vaccine free with any doctor offering it. You can check with your family doctor or paediatrician. Anyone over 15 that wants to get it needs to buy it at a pharmacy (prices vary depending on the vaccine used) and can ask their family doctor. 

There are free vaccinations for residents of elderly and care homes. 

You can read more about the vaccination offer in Salzburg HERE.

Tyrol

The flu vaccine is free for children from six months to the age of 15 years, and they can get it directly from their doctor (a general practitioner or a paediatrician, for example). For those older, it’s possible to vaccinate with their family doctors, but prices vary for the product and pharmacies and the doctor’s fee. 

Residents of elderly and nursing homes aged 60 and over get the vaccination free of charge.

You can read more about the vaccination offer in Tyrol HERE.

Vorarlberg

In Vorarlberg, children aged six months to 15 years can get the vaccine free with their doctors. Adults can also get it from general practitioner’s offices but will need to pay variable costs (depending on doctor fees and which vaccine they choose).

There are free vaccinations for residents of elderly and care homes. 

You can read more about the vaccination offer in Vorarlberg HERE.

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