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

Wednesday, 9 October, 2013

The fourth CleanMed Europe conference, Europe’s leading conference on the intersection between environmental sustainability and healthcare, took place last month, 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 Jeff Thompson, Professors Muir Gray, Ian Gilmour and Hugh Montgomery, Dr. Bettina Menne of the World Health Organisation and sustainability leads from J&J, GSK and Bupa 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 future.

Alongside six plenary sessions with panel discussions, 26 parallel sessions and workshops enabled attendees to discuss pressing  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, 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 introduced 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, Rachel Stancliffe, stated, “CleanMed Europe 2013 really emphasised the urgency to transform healthcare systems and to engage healthcare professionals to drive this transformation”. This message resonated clearly throughout the conference with practical examples of how we can initiate the transformation and participants calling for healthcare professionals and patients to come together and demand their governments focus more on the growth of well-being, rather than the traditional economic prosperity, as a measure of national success.

A newly produced video on

was launched along with another new film about their flagship

, both by BAFTA award-winning director Peter Armstrong. The conference also included a lively poster exhibition, with case studies of best practice from all around the world. Major sponsors of the conference 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 excellent 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, the importance of putting patients at the centre and of stepping back from our daily routine in order to find ways to improve established practices.

Gary Cohen, Founder and President of Health Care Without Harm,  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, ethical trade and environmental organisations, solutions to create a healthcare sector that does no harm were abundant. From the implementation of carbon footprinting methodology to 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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