In 2020, health and the systems that support it became a global concern as COVID-19 laid bare all their flaws. From the frontline to the supply side, from governance to national and local coordination, the whole ecosystem of health was found to be wanting. The world learned a brutal lesson as the lack of preparedness and cooperation became clear. Looking ahead, system resilience, leadership in health management, collaboration and reducing inequality have become watchwords for benchmarking improvements in health.
The logic of having more EU in health was undeniable and inescapable. Unsurprisingly, the European Commission has called for Treaty change to strengthen the EU mandate in health as well as a commitment to strengthening global health.
In November 2020, a record €5.1 billion was allocated to the EU4health programme and a raft of proposals published. A new law on data governance, an EU health data space, strengthened mandates for the ECDC and EMA, and a new agency for research and development in innovation for health have been promised. The European Commission has also announced a pharmaceutical strategy and revamped its industrial strategy to take into account the lessons learned from COVID-19, which will also feed into its upcoming plan to fight cancer. Combined, the money and strategies set the scene for a grand new deal for health. However, making the health system work in a smarter, data and digital-driven, patient focussed manner will require political leadership at all levels of the ecology of the health system and the stamina to resolve old habits.
The 2021 Friends of Europe Health programme will focus on what Europe should start, stop, and do differently to improve the health status of Europeans. We will focus on embedding the lessons from the pandemic into reform. Beyond the debate about how much to spend on health, we argue for a smarter approach to investment and disinvestment, exploring how both existing and new money could make a positive difference for health outcomes.
We will argue the benefits and consequences of strengthening of the EU mandate in health. We will explore what is required from a modern shock absorbent health system – staffing, skills, digitisation, competition, industrial capabilities – having a close look at what needs to improve or change in health system supply chains. We will trigger discussions on the impact of demographics, tackling inequalities, data sharing and how future health systems can be more interoperable, collaborative and burden-sharing.
One of the many casualties of the COVID-19 crisis has been the trust in health systems. Citizens have been subject to the politicised use of science, receiving mixed and often contradictory messages. We’ll engage with cross-sector stakeholders about how to regain trust, which is essential for vaccination uptake.