Event summary, /

At the occasion of its 10th Annual General Assembly, Health First Europe gathered together pan-European organisations and the European Commission to contribute to the HFE Road Map for the next Parliamentary term and share ideas on the future of public health in the European Union.

Health First Europe Honorary President John Bowis welcomed the participants and gave an overview of the achievements of HFE for the past 10 years. He noted that “HFE has worked in the direction of protecting patients from unnecessary harm, worked towards balancing safety and access to medical innovations and supported the shift from acute to community care”.

The 10th Anniversary meeting represented an opportunity to set out priorities for Health First Europe in the next Parliamentary term. To better fulfil this task, HFE members and invited guests participated in roundtable discussions to define key health objectives and associated challenges for next the European Commission and Parliament. This dynamic debate on the future direction and priorities of HFE culminated in a keynote speech delivered by the European Commissioner for Health Tonio Borg.

With his mandate as Commissioner coming to an end, Commissioner Borg provided a comprehensive overview of the European achievements on public health and he pointed while also noting some of the barriers inherent to the development of European health policy. He highlighted the natural tension between Member States and the Commission on health policy given the subsidiarity principle which can narrow the initiative taken by the Commission and slow the implementation of EU directives.

However, Commissioner Borg highlighted the impact of the European Commission policy towards promoting and implementing measures designed to have a positive impact on citizens’ life. He reiterated the need to see health as an opportunity to increase the European competitiveness, and stated “Health is a resource for the economy. In the formulation and implementation of EU policies, health and economy cannot be considered as two separate chapters.” He went on to say, that it is “imperative to reform our health systems” to build a system where a people can “live longer in healthy conditions”. This reform should “reduce the costs without reduce the healthcare standards for our citizens”.

Moreover, the Commissioner Borg reminded the audience of the recent developments on eHealth, saying “eHealth is not a solution for all problems”, but it represents a tool to improve care for European citizens and to boost the efficiency of national health systems. For this reason the European Commission is committed to supporting Member States in getting the best out of eHealth.

Last but not least, the Cross-border Healthcare Directive, which should have been transposed into national laws by October 2013. Commissioner Borg emphasized “This piece of EU legislation will bring direct benefits to patients by enabling them to use their rights in practice”. He further stated that, “This directive and its implementing tools such as: eHealth Network, Health Technology Assessment and ePrescriptions represents “a clear sign of a growing European dimension to national health systems”.

In the end of his speech, he tried to oversee the future developments of EU health policies. The Commissioner Borg is aware that “Europe’s health systems are likely to undergo profound changes over the next decades. The role the EU will play is uncertain, given that key changes will be driven by fiscal coordination”, but at the same time he expressed his dream that “health should became a horizontal topic” where each Minister has responsibility for health in all policies.