Mr Kyprianou sees an "increasing role for Europe in tackling fundamental issues of healthcare," with the dual task of helping patients' access high-quality care and supporting member states to improve the efficiency of their health systems.
In the view of the commissioner, the consequences of patient mobility, developments in medical science, the ageing of European populations as well as rising public expectations, demand a European response. The extension of the 'open method of co-ordination' to healthcare and long-term care serves this purpose and so does the establishment of the 'High Level Group on health services and medical care' which has been designed to provide a "proper mechanism through which actions can be taken". On the 2005 agenda of the high-level group are the following items:
- cross-border healthcare purchasing and provision (financial impact of cross-border care and information to patients)
- health professionals (their continuing professional development)
- centres of reference (options and procedures for designating centres of reference)
- European health technology assessment (development of common information packages, ensuring transferability of assessments and sharing expertise)
- information (the use of information and communication technologies)
- extending health impact assessment to cover health systems (to assess the impact of other policies on health in general)
- patient safety (how to avoid errors and problems)
Mr Kyprianou drew attention to the lower state of health in the new member states by comparison with the EU-15. He explained that, in particular, men's health is particularly poor in the new members with a higher prevalence of cardiovascular disease and cancer in this population. At the same time, the overall level of resources invested in healthcare amounts to around 5.8 % of the GDP in the new members by comparison with the EU-15 where spending is around 8.6 % of the GDP.
"Health is a productive factor in a competitive economy," Mr Kyprianou explained, adding that early investment in health reduces subsequent costs for the economy as a whole. The structural funds are already used to support investments in health and healthcare and their role will be strengthened under the new funds, he explained.
Finally, Mr Kyprianou underlined the point that "it is not health which is a cost, but rather sickness", and that therefore "improving the populations's health must become an economic priority". In the context of demographic ageing, investment in prevention and adapting health services to meet the needs of older people becomes even more important, he explained.