Brussels, 02 July 2015 – Last year, Friends of Europe convened a group of stakeholders from across Europe to explore how the EU could bring its population better health. It resulted in the report Adapting EU health policy to an evolving Europe that outlines 21 key recommendations on what the EU should ‘Start’, ‘Stop’ or ‘Do Differently’ to improve the health status of Europeans.
These concrete recommendations were presented on 3 March to EU Commissioner for Health & Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis who welcomed them with great enthusiasm. Since then, at least two of the recommendations have already started to get close attention – in the area of patient empowerment and effective use of EU resources for health.
Based on this success, the report was presented on 1 July at the roundtable Reforming health systems in Europe co-hosted by Marian Harkin MEP, Alojz Peterle MEP and Pavel Poc MEP at the European Parliament. The event featured 7 MEPs, including the Chair of the ENVI Committee Giovanni La Via, as well as 30 other stakeholders.
Despite being an essential part of economic and social success, health systems in Europe are in crisis and need major reform, stressed Alojz Peterle MEP. Change is hard to implement and health ministers face an uphill battle with insufficient political leverage to make the big changes happen. The report presented in the context of this roundtable is therefore a step in the right direction. “In my 11 years at the European Parliament, this was the most comprehensive process and ambitious attempt to propose ways the EU can improve health in the European Union”, he said.
Peterle called on the European Commission to launch a health union initiative to allow greater coordination of health policies at national level and strengthen health governance. This does not mean transferring new responsibility to Brussels, but rather that the EU should help member states to achieve concrete progress in their health indicators and outcomes. This could take place within the framework of a European Semester for Health.
“These 21 recommendations are a solid base not only for the institutions, but also for the wider health community to understand one thing clearly: the impact of the EU on health is substantial and is only likely to increase”, said Peterle.
Marian Harkin MEP also received the Friends of Europe report positively. “The recommendations are excellent and go in the right direction”, she told the roundtable. She highlighted two areas where the EU needs to help find common solutions: access to medicines and shortages of medicines. Areas of potential EU added value in health include rare diseases, personalised medicine and robotics, which cannot be addressed effectively with the funding currently available at national level.
Harkin particularly welcomed the recommendation on patient empowerment, calling for patients to be supported in actively managing their own health. The Internet and new technological tools are valuable assets in this process, she said. Karin Kadenbach MEP followed in her footsteps and highlighted the critical importance of health literacy in patient empowerment. She also pointed out that health policies will be high on the agenda of the Luxembourg presidency with patients and innovation at the core of discussions during the next six months.
“Health is not a cost, but a resource”, said Elisabetta Gardini MEP who emphasised the need to change the overall approach to health. Roberto Bertollini, WHO Representative to the EU, echoed this statement. “The key message in the report is a political vision that health must become a higher priority linked to Europe’s economic well-being and social cohesion”, he stressed. The economic argument for health needs to be strengthened because, despite a growing evidence base, action is still not being taken on known health challenges such as air pollution, trans-fats and sugar. “We lack consistent measures for health against a backdrop of strong vested interests”, he added.
The major issue is money, said Yann Le Cam, chief of the European Organisation for Rare Diseases (EURORDIS) taking the European Reference Networks as an example. “This could have a huge impact and be the embryo of a European Healthcare System”, he told the roundtable, but there is a major flaw in the process because the networks are created without any allocated funds.
Giovanni La Via MEP welcomed the Friends of Europe recommendation that the EU should stop new initiatives that are unrelated to the realities of national policy-making and which have no follow-up. The previous focus had been largely on new laws with insufficient monitoring of existing legislation, he stated. “It is clear that we have to do more on health, but the budget of the European Union is focused on certain political priorities and health is not one of them. To address this properly, adequate financial resources would be needed which essentially means changing the EU budget system”, he said.
Antimicrobial resistance will be the ENVI Committee’s main priority for health for the next year, he concluded. “This issue is addressed in a case study in the report”, said Tamsin Rose, non-resident fellow at Friends of Europe, who chaired the debate. “It is an area where a new paradigm for thinking about innovation and developing new models for drug development could work and we are delighted to hear that it will be addressed in the 2016 work programme of both the Dutch presidency and the European Parliament”, she said.
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