• Dr. Anna van Poucke, Leadership |

Over the last 2 years, the world’s healthcare systems have faced unprecedented challenges. It’s difficult to underplay how significant COVID-19 was for the industry. I’ve spent the last 2 years speaking virtually and – when possible – face-to-face with healthcare leaders. There’s real consensus that the industry is going through a period of profound transformation, accelerated by the pandemic and wider geopolitical and economic uncertainty.

The issues

Last year, KPMG produced the 2021 Healthcare CEO Future Pulse survey. My team interviewed hundreds of sector leaders to develop a robust view on the challenges and opportunities facing healthcare. Some of the results were startling. Fewer than half of the CEOs we interviewed said their organizations were well prepared for COVID-19. Meanwhile, the vast majority agreed that all aspects of healthcare delivery could be radically transformed in the next 3 years. But, in the context of the Russia-Ukraine war, one of the more alarming findings for me was a consensus among healthcare executives that current delivery and business models are ill-equipped to deal with any significant future challenges.

Such a ‘future challenge’ is already emerging within healthcare in Eastern Europe. The conflict has forced millions of Ukrainians from their homes into neighbouring countries and further afield. The outpouring of support – particularly from Ukraine’s nearest European nations, including Poland, Romania and the Baltic states is to be applauded, but there is now a real and present danger of a humanitarian crisis that will apply major pressure on already strained medical services.

The healthcare sector has largely escaped the worst of the immediate emergencies created by the conflict – including supply chain challenges. While Russia and Ukraine have some interests in the international life sciences sector and the production of medical equipment, they are not significant players in the wider medical field cross borders. But it doesn’t mean the industry is completely sheltered. In the coming weeks, months and years, nations, particularly in Europe, that have shown support, will need to invest heavily in the provision of both physical and mental health services for refugees. I believe there will also be a pressing need to invest in rebuilding Ukraine’s healthcare infrastructure on a scale similar to the Marshall Plan that followed World War II. Many millions of people have been directly affected by the war and will require a consistent global effort to support them in rebuilding their lives – physically and emotionally. 

Actions

The last 2 years have exposed some of the chronic weaknesses within the global healthcare system. ‘Wealth is health’ has become a depressingly apt term for the situation the planet faces. COVID-19 disproportionately impacted poorer people and poorer countries. Those working in industries where physical presence was essential were constantly exposed to risk, while nations that struggled with poor medical infrastructure and a lack of vaccine access were forced to accept an almost inevitable increase in mortality and healthcare vulnerability. It’s a crisis that hasn’t disappeared, and we still do not know what the virus will bring next, in terms of new mutations and severity of these. The recent resurgence in cases in China highlights the threat facing us all – particularly those individuals and nations that have been overwhelmed over the last few years. 

Key insights


Many positive actions can be taken now by healthcare leaders, supported by the decision makers in government. In the longer term, we’ll need to look at creating healthcare systems that shift the focus from curation to prevention. There needs to be greater integration of healthcare services in the community that embrace digital, without excluding vulnerable communities, and greater agility in the roles provided by people across healthcare, ensuring that the right people are providing the right service at the right time.


As highlighted in KPMG’s 2021 Healthcare CEO Future Pulse survey, there is widespread agreement that fundamental change of every aspect of healthcare is both essential and inevitable. For governments, institutions and industry leaders, the time to act is now. A collaborative approach that embraces change could help the world turn a corner. CEOs should look now at delivery models and embrace greater innovation. Agility is key. The pressures placed on healthcare workers were often overwhelming, leading to significant attrition rates. What more can be done to support the people who keep our healthcare services functioning? Unquestionably, leaders must look at remuneration, but there should also be greater psychological support. One hospital leader I recently met, revealed he was now providing a trauma program to his staff that was originally devised for firefighters dealing with catastrophes. While that may seem extreme, it’s hard to underplay the emotional impact the world’s current crises are having on those working in healthcare.

Many positive actions can be taken now by healthcare leaders, supported by the decision makers in government. In the longer term, we’ll need to look at creating healthcare systems that shift the focus from curation to prevention. There needs to be greater integration of healthcare services in the community that embrace digital, without excluding vulnerable communities, and greater agility in the roles provided by people across healthcare, ensuring that the right people are providing the right service at the right time.

There is no doubt that the challenges ahead are major. The Russia-Ukraine conflict, combined with a potential for further waves of COVID-19 will place unimaginable strains on medical services, but there is still room for some optimism. The industry recognizes the need for change and is ready to act. What’s needed now to build back better is for countries to thoroughly study their systems to ensure sustainability and resilience. The health and wellbeing of the world is being tested, but with the right response, I believe we could turn a corner and transform healthcare for the better.

We are continuously monitoring new developments and will update our resources in response to this ever-changing situation.

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