A wake-up call for Europe

What is needed to secure the future of the health systems and improve the working conditions of health personnel? From September 26th to 29th the European Health Forum Gastein 2023 aims to provide answers to these and other fundamental questions. The main theme is “Health systems in crisis – countering shockwaves and fatigue”.

Hundskopf, Stubnerkogel and Gamskarkogel. These are the names of just some of the lofty peaks in the High Tauern mountain range, which borders on the Gastein Valley. It is in this remote Alpine location, in the Austrian state of Salzburg, that the European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG) is held every year. The list of participants reads like a “Who’s who” of health policy in Europe. This year, speakers at the conference include – among many others – Stella Kyriakides, European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Hans Kluge, Regional Director for Europe at the World Health Organization WHO and Andrea Ammon, Director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

The 26th EHFG is taking place on 26-29 September. For the second time, it is being held as a hybrid conference, in other words as an in-person event and also online, after participation was only possible via the internet in 2020 and 2021 owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. The main theme this year is “Health systems in crisis – countering shockwaves and fatigue”.

The pandemic has exacerbated problems

Portrait of Clemens Martin Auer
Clemens Martin Auer, Photo: EHFG

“Health systems in Europe were already facing significant problems before the COVID-19 pandemic – ranging from underfunded primary and social care, workforce shortages and inequities in access to care through to the challenges posed by an ageing population and the increase in chronic diseases,” explains President of the European Health Forum Gastein Clemens Martin Auer. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation and the war in Ukraine, these problems have been exacerbated, however, and the health systems have been pushed to their limits. Health and care workers have been especially affected as a result.

Health systems in Europe were already facing significant problems before the COVID-19 pandemic.


The necessary measures that must be taken to reduce the pressure on personnel, to increase the attraction of health professions and to extend the length of time that staff remain in their jobs, are therefore key issues that will be discussed at the EHFG 2023. Sessions and plenary meetings will focus on new forms of training and HR management, for example, and also on digitalisation and the use of artificial intelligence. In addition, ongoing challenges in the health sector such as anti-microbial resistance, vaccine hesitancy, the treatment of rare diseases, mental health and climate protection will be on the agenda.

The EU elections in 2024 will be discussed at the EHFG as well. It is likely that the 27 Member States of the European Union will vote for the approx. 720 members of the European Parliament in June of the coming year. “The COVID-19 pandemic has suddenly put health policies in the spotlight of public attention. We need to use this momentum and also prepare even now for what we can do to ensure that this continues after the coming elections,” remarks Clemens Martin Auer. “It is time for the idea of a European Health Union to be realised in the next term of government.”

Financing must be secured

Europarliament. Flags of the countries of the European Union at an input in Europarliament

More than anything else, it is a question of the money involved: “When it comes to distributing taxpayers’ money, the health sector is in competition with other sectors. Everyone who is involved in health must therefore also play an active role in fighting for adequate funding of the health and social systems,” the EHFG President observes. “After all, it should be well known by now that health and social measures also benefit all other areas of society.” Auer believes that the EHFG 2023 and its main theme “Health systems in crisis” should therefore be understood as a “wake-up call for Europe”.