End of year message - 2021

  • Europe

Will Clark, Executive Director - Health Care Without Harm Europe

In many ways, 2021 has been just as challenging for the healthcare sector as 2020. Despite generally successful vaccination programmes across Europe, we end the year with rising cases and another new variant. COVID-19 continues to highlight the vulnerability of our economic and healthcare systems and underlines the importance of creating a more resilient and sustainable healthcare sector in Europe. Our health systems need to be resilient not only to future pandemics but also to the ever-growing public health threat of growing environmental crises, most notably climate change.

The health impacts of a warming climate and widespread environmental degradation are clear. Fortunately, it is also increasingly clear that the healthcare sector can play an important leadership role in addressing environmental harm, and we are now seeing major progress in this regard.

On the international stage of climate action, COP26 failed to deliver on our many hopes and aspirations, but it was a major step forward for health and healthcare climate action. In a watershed moment, over 50 countries made national commitments to climate-resilient and low-carbon healthcare systems. Much work is needed to turn these commitments into reality, however, and HCWH Europe is already taking great strides towards achieving this in Europe. 

Supporting the decarbonisation of European healthcare, our Operation Zero project has advanced at pace this year, working with national health administrations and partners in Portugal, the Netherlands, and Romania, along with the Lazio regional health authority in Italy. Operation Zero will create the world’s first methodology for establishing system-level decarbonisation roadmaps for healthcare, supporting our ambition that the European health system should chart a course to net-zero emissions. At the same time, climate action at the individual healthcare provider level has been given a huge boost by the publication of our new Carbon Management Toolkit.

Alongside our climate work, we have made fantastic progress in our other programmes during 2021. Our new Circular Healthcare programme brings together our work on sustainable procurement and safer chemicals and introduces circular economy principles into healthcare environmental resource management. Within this new programme, we worked with our members across Europe to produce a toolkit to support healthcare institutions to measure and reduce plastic waste in healthcare. We also significantly expanded our work on reducing pharmaceutical pollution through our Safer Pharma programme, with brand new project work focusing on the use of pharmaceuticals in food production in Europe.

This year we also saw the rollout of our new strategy for HCWH Europe, providing renewed focus and momentum and paving the way for a critical restructuring of our membership, placing healthcare providers at the heart of our organisational governance and delivery model. Crucially this has enabled us to better support and collaborate with our members and has led to an expansion in our team resources, capacity, and projects.

The sustainable healthcare movement In Europe ended the year on a high with another successful CleanMed conference. Over 400 sustainable healthcare leaders came together online to share their exciting initiatives on our theme of designing tomorrow’s healthcare. From our opening keynote on digital transformation and sustainability, all the way through to an inspiring panel on nurses' climate action, we discussed and shared so many great stories of moving towards a more sustainable health system in Europe.

We will continue these important discussions and collaborations next year as we expand our health professional networks and partnerships - stay tuned for news of CleanMed Europe 2022.

Leading HCWH Europe forward continues to be a genuine pleasure, and it is exciting and inspiring to see the amazing work happening across our networks, supported by our fantastic team. I very much look forward to seeing this movement grow even further in 2022.

Our ability to work effectively with a wide and diverse network of stakeholders is fundamental to achieving our mission and programmatic objectives. Find out how you can get involved and join the sustainable healthcare movement in Europe.