Stakeholders contribute to health strategy debate

In their contributions to the consultation on future EU health strategy, stakeholders have called for better co-ordination between public health and other policy areas, the need for more comparable data on the impact of investments in health and further debate on healthcare.

In the reflection paper, Commissioner Byrne argues that good health is a driver of economic growth but “without long-term investment in good health, healthcare and social costs will continue to rise and economies will inevitably suffer”. David Byrne warns that the emphasis must move away from a “defensive approach”, one that focuses on the prevention of illness, to a “forward-looking approach” advocating life-long physical and mental well-being. Tackling inequalities that lead to differences in the quality of health, housing and work conditions and the living environment is another area a future health strategy should address. The commissioner argues that a co-ordinated approach is necessary to fight health inequalities as it involves a number of EU policy areas (including agriculture, environment and trade). David Byrne has also said that the funds available under the EU’s Public Health Programme are insufficient and that this should be taken into consideration in the ongoing discussions on the new financial framework.

Some organisations have published their positions since the closure of the public consultation on 15 October. 

The European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), which refers to itself as a "platform of NGOs and not-for-profit organisations", has welcomed the consultation process, which they label " transparent, open and extensive". The health platform of NGOs warns that health inequalities have widened in most EU countries, which has resulted in worse health status and a generally shorter lifespan for people living in poorer communities. EPHA quotes figures which show low levels of financial allocation to prevention and promotion: 2.8 per cent of total health expenditure in OECD countries. The alliance would promote a more "consistent and rigorous application of a Health Impact Assessment" in order to ensure that the EU's actions contribute to a high level of human health protection, which is the objective of Article 152 of the EU Treaty. EPHA would promote a "reinforced DG Health" whose remit would extend not only to public health, but also to pharmaceuticals, workplace safety, and the co-ordination of various EU agencies. 

Health First Europe, whose members include patient groups, healthcare workers, academics, experts and the medical technology industry, has called on the Commission to step up its role in co-ordinating health policies in the EU and in compiling health-related background research. "Where competence for health still largely lies with the member states, the European Commission has to ensure that public health objectives are fully integrated into the work of all its Directorates-General," states a Health First Europe press release.

The European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) calls on DG SANCO to produce an annual "EU Health Report", taking the existing Health Status Report as a model, but published more regularly and with more comparable data that could be used as a point of reference in future debates. EFPIA's first general recommendation to the Commission is to enhance the quality of information made available to citizens. The innovative pharmaceutical industry would also like to see the Commission "act as a catalyst in the debate on healthcare", in view of Europe's ageing population and the East-West split with regard to income.

The European Medical Technology Industry Association (Eucomed) warns that an "appropriate balance must be found between prevention of ill health and treatment" (since not all conditions are preventable) and argues that data should be developed assessing the long-term impact of investments in health and medical technology. Eucomed underlines that alliances comprising patients, healthcare professionals and the healthcare industry should be recognised as a quality source of information for patients.

EURACTIV welcomes additional stakeholder comments  which will be added to this file.

The outgoing Public Health Commissioner David Byrne launched a reflection process in July, inviting stakeholders to express their visions on a future EU health strategy. A paper by Commissioner Byrne, entitled "Enabling Good Health for all - A reflection process for a new EU Health Strategy", and a complementary non-paper by DG SANCO (Health and Consumer Protection), entitled "Partnerships for Health in Europe", served as a basis for the consultation. The deadline to submit contributions was 15 October.

David Byrne's mandate as commissioner comes to an end this month. From the beginning of November, the new Cypriot commissioner Markos Kyprianou will take over, provided that the European Parliament votes to accept the Barroso Commission as a whole on 27 October.

During a hearing by MEPs on 8 October, Mr Kyprianou said he would, in particular, promote healthier lifestyles, co-operation between national health services and protection of patients' rights, including their right to information (see also EURACTIV, 11 October 2004).

The outcome of the consultation will help shape the future EU health strategy to be developed by the next Commission.

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