Will Clark, Executive Director - Health Care Without Harm Europe
Recently I was chatting with a friend and colleague, reflecting on the rapid rise in awareness and activity in sustainable healthcare that we have witnessed over the past couple of years. His closing remark stuck with me, mainly because I think it sums up where we have arrived in 2022: sustainable healthcare isn’t the next big thing, as we have so often referred to it; it is now THE big thing.
What is the evidence for this, and what has been responsible for this sudden shift in gears? Everywhere we look, we see growing recognition of the inescapable relationship between environmental harm and human health and the undeniable role that actors in the healthcare sector play in driving change.
The accelerating impact of climate change on health and the viability of health systems (already on the back foot following the devastation and upheaval of the COVID pandemic), is increasingly clear to everyone, both inside and outside of the sector. A critical step forward was promoting healthcare onto the main stage for the first time at COP26 in Glasgow at the end of 2021. The result of many months of groundwork undertaken by organisations like WHO and the UK COP Presidency, in collaboration with HCWH, resulted in the COP26 Health Commitments programme – which now has over 60 countries around the world committed to building climate resilience and low-carbon health systems.
Sustainable healthcare isn’t the next big thing, as we have so often referred to it; it is now THE big thing.
Another by-product of the COVID pandemic was that it dramatically exposed the waste and cost implications of our linear use of resources in healthcare, particularly the continued reliance on single-use plastics. Consequently, growing numbers of frontline healthcare workers are calling for more sustainable alternatives and we are beginning to see signs of manufacturers responding with an increase in reusable, toxic-free alternatives making their way onto the market.
The rise of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), largely driven by unsustainable supply chains and misuse of antimicrobial drugs, is finally finding its way into the public consciousness, courtesy of doctors and other health professionals’ growing recognition of this health threat, as well as increasing coverage by mainstream media. This has followed many years of hard work by campaign groups and civil society organisations, including HCWH Europe.
As the organisation leading Europe’s sustainable healthcare movement, this is of course gratifying, but equally no cause for complacency. This is why we are advancing our work at an even faster pace, with increased ambition and scale.
In 2022 we upscaled our Circular Healthcare programme, supporting the sector to become a torchbearer for sustainable and toxic-free supply chains. We embarked on exciting new projects, including Procure4Health, an innovation procurement project that strengthens our international partnerships. We’ve also been collaborating more locally with hospitals in our Greening the Brussels healthcare sector project, delivering training workshops on both circular and climate-smart healthcare practices.
A central pillar of our Climate-smart Healthcare work in 2022 involved working closely with national and regional health authorities to develop a practical methodology for healthcare decarbonisation. Created for the healthcare sector by the healthcare sector, we will take this methodology forward next year and support a number of health authorities to develop decarbonisation roadmaps.
Through our Safer Pharma programme in 2022, we worked with MEPs to promote the responsible use of antimicrobials, safeguarding these treatments for vital human use. Leveraging the healthcare sector’s market influence, we work with the healthcare sector to create procurement criteria that prioritise animals raised with responsible antimicrobial use.
To support this great work, we continue to expand our team and our networks. We have increased our internal capacity to collaborate on projects with members and increased the translation of our events and resources. This has helped us to reach a wider audience and grow our member network to over 150 members - representing more than 6,000 healthcare facilities serving over 115 million patients across Europe.
Everything we achieved in 2022 was made possible through the generous support of our donors. We thank you for your commitment to our work and ask for your continued partnership and support. Please make a donation today.
Looking forward to next year, we will once again host Europe’s leading conference on sustainable healthcare, CleanMed Europe, online from 5-9 June 2023, under the theme Changing the climate of healthcare. The conference will bring together a truly unique range of innovative speakers and participants to share ideas and best practice, co-create solutions, and empower you all to accelerate the transition to sustainable healthcare in Europe.
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 2023.
As 2022 draws to a close, on behalf of the entire HCWH Europe team I would like to wish all our members, partners, and supporters a peaceful holiday season.
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.