EU health chief warns against national budget cuts

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Health services across Europe will come under increasing pressure during the financial crisis, according to European Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, who is urging health ministers not to slash public spending on health care.

Vassiliou has been calling on EU countries to step up investment in medical technology and eHealth amid growing concerns that national governments are cutting expenditure in health and social services. 

Speaking at the 12th European Health Forum Gastein (EHFG) in Austria, the commissioner said there is a serious risk that health standards will decline in the wake of the financial crisis. 

“There is now a risk that decision-makers are being tempted to think short-term and to make cuts in the health budget,” she said. 

Demand on public services is likely to increase in the short term, according to Vassiliou, who said governments should look for technology-driven efficiencies rather than cutting back on service provision. 

“The crisis is causing increased psychosocial stress and in many cases an increase in hazardous behaviour such as alcohol abuse, smoking and unhealthy nutrition. For this reason the demand for health services will significantly rise as a result of the crisis,” she said. 

Vassiliou said the EU executive supports cooperation at national level in evaluating new technologies, adding that further development of eHealth solutions will usher in significant productivity increases. 

“In the crisis we should be investing in health rather than cutting budgets,” the commissioner insisted. “But we also have to seek favourable cost solutions just as much and grant prevention and health promotion, in particular, a greater priority.” 

EHFG President Günther Leiner said policymakers and health workers would have to be pragmatic in finding cost savings without jeopardising patient care. 

“If we don’t want the necessary cost-cutting measures to be taken at the expense of people, then we have to work more efficiently – even if several sacred cows have to be slaughtered for this. This is certainly the more difficult path, but the only right and justifiable one,” he said. 

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