Capacity-enhancing innovation: strengthening Europe's healthcare systems and workforce

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Sustainable Livelihoods

What happened?

Pandemic shows model for innovative EU healthcare

Today’s society and healthcare systems are facing complex challenges. Demand for care is growing due to an ageing population and a rise in chronic diseases. At the same time, the healthcare workforce is increasingly scarce in most sectors and geographies, a phenomenon exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The healthcare workforce crisis is the new pandemic.

The growing gaps between the demand for care and the delivery of healthcare services are impacting citizens. Patients, who are denied or suffering delays in access to prevention, screening, treatment and care services, are paying the highest price.

As demand for care will continue to rise, simply adding health workforce resources is unrealistic both from a financial and a human resource perspective. In some countries, one out of two high school graduates would need to join the health and care workforce if we continue to work and plan according to existing models and numbers. But the current reality reveals the opposite trend: more than ever before, professionals are leaving the healthcare profession due to poor working conditions, mental health issues and pressures.

During the pandemic, we have seen quick and agile reactions to support our healthcare systems in the face of adversity. EU healthcare systems should build on innovative approaches developed in response to COVID-19.

“If we could cut down the approval time for COVID vaccines, why can’t we do it for other healthcare processes?” asked Tomislav Sokol, Member of the European Parliament Subcommittee on Public Health and of the Special Committee on the COVID-19 pandemic. “If some processes were unnecessary then, they are unnecessary now.”

The world saw “a lot of innovations during the pandemic”, agreed Natasha Azzopardi-Muscat, Director of the Division of Country Health Policies and Systems at the World Health Organization (WHO). But she added that after the crisis had passed, “some healthcare systems sought to go back to the past instead of capitalising on success.”

There are a lot of new, innovative technologies “validated and available” in Europe, said Andrea Rappagliosi, Senior Vice-President of Public Affairs for EMEA, Canada and LATAM at Edwards Lifesciences. The issue, however, is that we have innovation in technologies but we don’t have the processes that enable adoption, expansion of their use and measurement of the results. He warned that their use is still not assessed through efficiency gains. The OECD already in 2017 highlighted that 23% to 24% of hospital spending was wasted and no one looked at how to redesign how healthcare is distributed. Digital technology can support and diminish the pressure on health workforces.

Francis de Drée, CEO of the Institut Bordet and President of the Belgian Hospitals Association, confirmed that the crisis of health workforces is stronger than ever. In Belgium, there are around 10,000 vacant nursing positions, which forces hospitals to recruit aggressively from other countries and increase interim staff with consequences in terms of the security of the patients and efficiency . Innovative digitalisation and AI healthcare “will help, but they need acceptance” from the staff, he warned. Many are worried they will lose their jobs as they lack confidence in the system, while other practitioners will have to think about their jobs differently.

Eleni Kaldoudi, President of the EAMBES, agreed there is evidence that telemedicine can improve things, for instance, by reducing hospitalisation times. “We are now at the verge of a new healthcare paradigm.”

At the heart of this transformation will be people. Systems don’t digitalise or transform themselves; it’s the people that will do it, concluded Azzopardi-Muscat. For the system to improve, we must engage staff and patients in the transformation.

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Registration and lunch
Capacity-enhancing innovation: strengthening Europe's healthcare systems and workforce
Expand Capacity-enhancing innovation: strengthening Europe's healthcare systems and workforce
  • What could be the role of innovative health technology in enhancing healthcare systems capacity and efficiencies?
  • How can investment in capacity-enhancing health innovation be prioritised and what role can the EU play in this regard?
  • What needs to happen between funding mobilisation and the use of public-private partnerships to foster the uptake of solutions that add value and bring efficiencies?
End of debate


Natasha Azzopardi Muscat
Natasha Azzopardi-Muscat (joining online)

Director of the Division of Country Health Policies and Systems at the World Health Organization (WHO)

Show more information on Natasha Azzopardi-Muscat (joining online)

Natasha Azzopardi-Muscat is a medical doctor, who specialises in public health. Before joining the WHO, she served as the president of the European Public Health Association (EUPHA), in which role she was actively involved in health advocacy at the European level. Azzopardi-Muscat has previously held various senior positions at the Ministry of Health in Malta and worked in various areas in the country’s health sector, including primary care. She is also a resident academic at the University of Malta and has authored several publications on public health and European health policy.

Andrea Rappagliosi
Andrea Rappagliosi

Senior Vice-President of Public Affairs for EMEA, Canada and LATAM at Edwards Lifesciences

Show more information on Andrea Rappagliosi

A member of the regional executive leadership team at Edwards Lifesciences, Andrea Rappagliosi leads the company’s government affairs, market access, communication and patients advocacy engagement. He previously worked at Sanofi as the vice-president of European public affairs, prior to which he held positions in the public affairs and market access policy area at Baxter Healthcare, Serono International and GSK. A founding member of the Global Policy Forum at HTAi, the scientific and professional society for those who produce or use health technology assessment (HTA), Rappagliosi currently chairs the MedTech Europe HTA Committee and serves on the Board of the European Patient Safety Foundation (EUPSF).

Tomislav Sokol
Tomislav Sokol

Member of the European Parliament and rapporteur on the European Health Data Space (EHDS) and shadow rapporteur on the Revision of the EU pharmaceutical legislation

Show more information on Tomislav Sokol

At the European Parliament, Tomislav Sokol serves as the European People’s Party (EPP) Coordinator in the Committee on Public Health (SANT) and Vice-Coordinator in Special Committee on the COVID-19 pandemic: lessons learned and recommendations for the future (COVI). He also sits on the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI), among others. Currently, Sokol is the main rapporteur for the European Health Data Space and EPP shadow rapporteur for pharmaceutical legislation (regulation). Prior to Brussels, he was a member of the Croatian parliament and an assistant minister in the Ministry of Science and Education. Sokol’s areas of professional interest include the law of the European common market, as well as health, competition, social and trade law. 




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