CleanMed Europe 2013 accelerates the push towards a sustainable European healthcare system

Oxford — The fourth CleanMed Europe conference, Europe’s leading conference on the intersection between environmental sustainability and healthcare, took place this week, organised by the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare (CSH) and Health Care Without Harm Europe (HCWH Europe). The conference drew together more than 300 leaders from the healthcare, public health and environmental sectors, including many people who have been working on healthcare sustainability locally and nationally.

Experts speaking during the four plenary sessions included Gary Cohen of HCWH, Professors Ian Gilmour and Hugh Montgomery, and Dr. Bettina Menne of the World Health Organisation, on a range of subjects - from the impacts of biodiversity loss and climate change on health to specific ways in which healthcare systems can become part of the solution. Delegates had the opportunity to share their examples of best practice and to discuss the role of the health sector in modelling the transition all sectors need to make for a healthier, more resilient and more liveable future.

Alongside six plenary sessions, 26 parallel sessions and workshops enabled attendees to discuss pressing contemporary issues in healthcare sustainability: technological innovations; ethical procurement of equipment; education and culture change; prevention through policy change; the role of clinicians; improving access to green space through commissioning and much more.

A focus on patients, clinical care pathways and implementation research were defining features of the conference, reflecting the focus of the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare’s work. The days’ themes moved from ‘making the exceptional normal’ via ‘improved models of care’ to ‘radical transformation’. Whilst the first day focused on scaling up current best practice and focusing on priority areas and ‘carbon hotspots’, the second day saw presentations on innovations in models of care in areas such as mental health and kidney medicine, including quantified carbon emissions reductions, financial savings and improvements in health outcomes.

The final day brought in discussion about the need for a greater emphasis on upstream disease prevention, for example through policy change and work to create healthy and sustainable communities. The core message was that keeping people healthier results in fewer expensive, environmentally harmful and often risky medical treatments being required, and should be considered integral to a vision of sustainable healthcare.

The Director of The Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, Ms. Rachel Stancliffe, stated, “CleanMed Europe 2013 really pushed the urgency to transform healthcare systems and to engage healthcare professionals to drive this transformation”. This message was strongly resonated throughout the conference with participants calling for doctors and nurses to come together and demand their governments to stop solely thinking about economic prosperity and to focus more on the growth of well-being as a measure of national success.

A newly produced video on CSH’s Sustainable Specialties initiative was launched along with another new film about their flagship NHS Forest scheme, both by award-winning director Peter Armstrong. The conference also included a poster exhibition, with case studies of best practice from all around the world. Major sponsors included Johnson & Johnson, Construction Specialties, KPMG, the Oxford Academic Health Sciences Network, BD and nora systems with other exhibitors from healthcare, academia and industry. A group of students coordinated by Healthy Planet UK helped delegates to make the most of the conference, as well as tweeting and interviewing throughout.

Emergent themes included collaboration across sectoral boundaries and the importance of putting patients at the centre and of stepping back from daily routine in order to find ways to improve established practices.

Mr. Gary Cohen, Founder and President of Health Care Without Harm, which is also the founding organisation of the CleanMed conference, commented in his closing plenary speech, “there is a growing consensus that the healthcare sector needs to transform itself to become an anchor for healthy communities and a sustainable economy rather than being exclusively focused on managing diseases in individual patients”.

After three days of interaction between European hospitals, healthcare systems, medical associations, healthcare professionals, local authorities and health and environmental organisations, solutions to create a healthcare sector that does no harm were abundant. Whether it was the implementation of carbon footprint measurements or standards for a shared European framework for healthcare systems, Mr. Cohen commends the CleanMed Europe 2013 conference as it “showcased the islands of hopeful innovation in service of the radical transformation needed”.

CleanMed Europe is the only European conference on sustainability within the healthcare sector, addressing the environmental impact of the health care sector on a local, regional, and global level. Next year’s CleanMed Europe will take place in Brussels, Belgium. For more information about CleanMed Europe 2014, please contact Health Care Without Harm Europe.

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The Centre for Sustainable Healthcare focuses on the interface between health and the environment in order to put health messages at the centre of the climate change agenda. Through our research and our work with clinical communities we are supporting the transition to a healthcare system which is both economically and environmentally sustainable.

Health Care Without Harm is an international coalition of more than 500 organizations in 53 countries, working to transform the health care sector worldwide, without compromising patient safety or care, so that it is ecologically sustainable and no longer a source of harm to public health and the environment.