Tackling health threats such as avian flu and ensuring safe, efficient and equitable access to cross-border healtcare will be top priorities of the EU public health policy agenda in the years to come, predicted the Commission’s public health director, Andrzej Ry?, in an interview with EURACTIV.
Asked what he thinks the major EU health policy issues will be in years to come, Ry? predicted there will be “important developments in the implementation mechanism of the EU health strategy,” namely via increased EU involvement. In particular, he foresees the establishment of a specific Commission-Council group to plan the strategy and assure its overall coherence with the real health problems faced by member states.
He also said that the Commission will launch discussions on health security issues and on how the EU action should be structured in this field during the upcoming French Presidency. The EU executive plans to present a specific ‘health security package’ which would address threats such as avian influenza and possibly also those related to the climate, such as heat waves, floods and new diseases. According to the WHO, threats to health security are defined as ones that endanger the very existence of certain countries and economies, and as such are usually considered under national security plans – with a corresponding military response – rather than under national health plans.
The long-awaited cross-border health care proposal will finally be discussed by the College of Commissioners on 25 June 2008 as part of the social agenda package to be adopted that day, Ry? said. Moreover, the Commission hopes the proposal will provide a new legal framework for the implementation of European Court of Justice rulings on cross-border access to care “to ensure that eHealth or telemedicine services can be sent from one country to another safely and efficiently,” he added.
Asked why this highly controversial proposal will be presented as part of the social agenda package and not in its own right, Ry? said “there are specific problems with safe, efficient and equitable access to cross-border healthcare that we are trying to solve, and of course such access to healthcare is also an important social issue”.
As for the challenges posed by ageing populations, Ry? said the Commission can help member states by setting a clear EU goal to “allow older people to live as independently as possible for as long as possible” by highlighting the issues they need to address to make it happen. “For example, in many countries, it is not legally possible for doctors to make a diagnosis or provide treatment remotely. This is something that needs to be addressed – maybe through EU legislation,” he added.