Brussels 30 June 2004 – From 1 July the Netherlands will take the helm of the Presidency of the European Union for the next six months and a range of healthcare debates and events are planned. Health First Europe, an alliance representing European patients, healthcare workers, academics, experts and industry, urges the Dutch Presidency to ensure that its key priorities include patient mobility as well as encouraging and simplifying patient access to modern, efficient and innovative medical technology and healthcare.

It is essential that work commenced by the Irish Presidency on this issue is continued and completed and that the conclusions reached at the June Health Ministers Council in Luxembourg are taken into account. At the same time, however, Health First Europe also stresses that any decisions on European healthcare must be based on patient needs and not be led by political or economic agendas. Health is a driver of economic growth, sustainable development and quality of life and as such must be viewed as a priority for any presidency to pursue and ensure that Europe is given the means and resources to provide its citizens with the best possible healthcare available.

That European citizens and patients feel strongly about the future of European healthcare is highlighted by a recent survey* conducted amongst 8,000 Europeans. The study showed that 81% of respondents believe that the quality of healthcare in Europe will stand still or decline if no reforms take place within the next ten years and 84% think that this reform is urgent or necessary. It is clear that this survey carries a strong message for European policymakers – citizens want to see a positive change in their healthcare systems!

Health First Europe believes that a key priority of the incoming presidency must be to focus on encouraging and simplifying patient access to modern, efficient and innovative medical technology and healthcare. “The demographic time bomb ticking away in Europe requires speed in addressing the core problems of access and investment in modern treatment techniques” stated Prof. Dr. Dr.h.c. Felix Unger, President of the European Institute of Medicine, and a member of Health First Europe. A further priority must be to ensure that citizens and patients have access to reliable information on health whilst also stimulating citizen and patient participation in health related decision making.

In debating the future of healthcare in Europe, Health First Europe urges policy makers to also look beyond traditional forms of healthcare. Homecare and self-care, for example, can help to reduce the need for hospitalisation and can contribute to building new and more flexible modes of healthcare delivery. Representing the interests of European doctors within Health First Europe, Dr. Vincenzo Costigliola, President of the European Medical Association (EMA), commented: “The approach to healthcare in Europe must change from one of reactive response to one of active promotion of good health. This implies a break with the traditional structures of healthcare provision to allow the design of new systems, individually tailored to the needs of each patient”.

* Survey presented on 28 June in Brussels by the Stockholm Network which looks at the attitudes of 8,000 Europeans towards the future of healthcare. ‘Impatient for Change – European attitudes to healthcare reform’. For more information on the Stockholm Network, please visit their website. Please note that Health First Europe is not affiliated with the Stockholm Network.