MEPs support making full use of cohesion policy to abolish health inequalities

Nurses take care for a patient suffering of Covid-19 on the Intensive Care ward of the UMC Clinic in Maastricht, the Netherlands, 11 November 2021. [EPA-EFE/SEM VAN DER WAL]

The European Parliament has approved an own-initiative report suggesting that cohesion policy funds could be one of the ways to reduce health inequalities, which remain huge across the EU. 

The report drafted by the Parliament’s Committee for Regional Development (REGI) was adopted by the plenary with a clear majority of 582 votes for and 35 against on Tuesday (8 March). It said cohesion policy funds should be used better in order to even out health inequalities across the continent.

Health inequalities across the EU are huge, said rapporteur Tomislav Sokol, a Croatian lawmaker from the European Peoples Party (EPP).

“We have to do everything in our power to do away with these disparities. Cohesion Policy is the instrument that we have at our disposal,” he said during the presentation of the report to the plenary.

A third of the EU budget is dedicated to internal cohesion, making it an important investment policy promoting growth in all regions, especially those that lag behind in development.

But investments need to be made more efficiently, Sokol warned. The report suggests strengthening access to and knowledge about cross-border health opportunities and calls for setting up specialised centres of excellence for specific diseases.

“For instance, in my country, Croatia, there is a lot of diseases, especially rare diseases, [where we lack] expertise or equipment to treat patients. Why not establish centres of excellence for certain types of rare diseases that will cover more regions for different member states,” Sokol told EURACTIV in a recent interview.

Another critical area is tackling the brain drain phenomenon – where highly skilled workers, particularly health workers, leave their countries, mostly for Western Europe, because there are not enough incentives to stay.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a turning point when it comes to investing in the health care systems. So I call upon the member states to continue investing more within the following programming period in order to meet the health needs of European citizens,” Sokol said in the plenary.

Could EU's cohesion policy be the health hero we always needed?

New own-initiative report suggests that we should make better use of cohesion policy to reduce health inequalities.

We need all tools to work together

Speaking on behalf of the EU executive, the Commissioner for Innovation Mariya Gabriel said the Commission is aware of the issue of health inequalities across the EU.

She highlighted that the cohesion policy has been a strong tool in responding to the COVID pandemic, saying that €14.6 billion had been ensured under the Corona Response Initiative and REACT-EU for healthcare investments and emergency measures during the pandemic.

This included purchasing more than 13,000 ventilators and 12,000 hospital beds, vaccination, testing and providing financial assistance to purchase over three billion items of personal protective equipment.

“But beyond emergency response, Europe needs continuous and increased investment in the capacity and efficiency of health systems in facilities, personnel and supplies in the 2021-27 cohesion programmes,” Gabriel said.

“Cohesion policy cannot do this alone. We need all available tools to tackle disparities in medical care and shortages in the workforce,” she continued, mentioning other funding programmes and instruments such as the recovery and resilience facility, the EU4Health programme, Horizon Europe, Digital Europe and InvestEU.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna]

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