MEPs warn governments not to cut health spending

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This article is part of our special report Future of European Healthcare.

MEPs have called on member states not to divert money and resources away from health care, concerned that austerity measures will widen health gaps in the EU.

Members of the European Parliament's public health committee warned that cuts in health budgets due to the economic crisis could worsen disparities across the European Union.

The committee adopted a report on health inequalities yesterday (25 January), which addressed a European Commission initiative aimed at reducing gaps in areas such as life expectancy, infant mortality and living and working conditions.

Members of the European Parliament's public health committee warned that cuts in health budgets due to the economic crisis could worsen disparities across the European Union.

The committee adopted a report on health inequalities yesterday (25 January), which addressed a European Commission initiative aimed at reducing gaps in areas such as life expectancy, infant mortality and living and working conditions.

MEPs said member states must make better use of resources and take measures to limit the negative impact of the crisis on the healthcare sector.

"In some cases, budget cuts and lower tax revenues have led to reduced funding for public health and long-term care services, while demand for these services is increasing," said Portuguese Socialist MEP Edite Estrele, author of the report.

Many of the inequalities are avoidable and exist only because of "a lack of opportunity, education, access to services and material resources," she said.

British Conservative MEP Emma McClarkin, who drafted the internal market committee's position, proposed a revision of the EU Transparency Directive to help to tackle the considerable disparities in drug treatment prices.

The Commission proposal, issued in October 2009, set out ways to help EU member states, including better information on EU funding possibilities and regular statistics on the sizes of inequalities.

Once adopted by the Parliament plenary the initiative goes to member states for their input. The Commission will publish a first report on progress in 2012.

Study reveals gaps

A recent study by the Commission and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) revealed large disparities in certain health areas across the EU.

For women, life expectancy varies from 84.4 years in France to 76.2 years in Romania and for men from 78.8 years in Sweden to 65.1 years in Lithuania. The difference between a Lithuanian man and a French woman is therefore 20 years.

It also cited shortages of health workers in some countries as a key source of inequalities. The number of doctors and nurses varies greatly between member states and is lowest in Poland and Romania.

Background

Although EU citizens have become healthier and their life expectancy has improved in recent decades, major differences persist in care services and health risk factors across the member states.

In 2007, the life expectancy of a Frenchman was 5.6 years longer than that of a Latvian man, while a Frenchwoman could expect to live 6.6 years longer than a woman in Bulgaria.

Healthcare provision in the EU is primarily the responsibility of member states, but the European Commission is trying to close the gaps among EU countries. Governments have committed themselves to reducing inequalities through the so-called Open Method of Coordination, which facilitates the exchange of experiences and the adoption of working models.

Timeline

  • 2012: European Commission progress report on reducing health inequalities.

Further Reading

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