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6 November 2012: Health First Europe attended the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on Active and Healthy Ageing (AHA): First Conference of Partners. Bringing together partners of the EIP on AHA, the conference outlined the progress achieved by the six designated Action Groups of the project. Each group presented its Action Plan for delivering specific objectives which will contribute to the overall goal of the partnership: 2 additional healthy living years for each European citizen by 2020.  Over 300 stakeholders from all Member States are participating in the Commission’s initiative originally launched in 2010.

The event was opened by Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the European Commission, who emphasised the overwhelmingly challenge Europe faces due to its ageing population. Commissioner Kroes encouraged the partners to “learn together, share and build together” and confirmed that the Commission will continue to support partners now and in the future through research and innovation funding programmes.  She also declared that by transforming the delivery of care, together we could contribute to savings of over 60 billion Euros, an amount that is worth more than any EU funding.

Furthering many of the points raised by Commissioner Kroes, Kathleen Lynch, Minister of State for Disability, Equality, Mental Health and Older People at the Department of Justice, Equality and Defence in Ireland, expressed that the partnership is a good example of what “Europe can achieve when all nations buy into a single project.” The ultimate goal of the initiative, she told the audience, is not simply to treat broken hips and joints but to prevent these incidents from happening in the first place. Minister Lynch informed the stakeholders that active ageing is at the heart of the priorities of the Irish Presidency about to begin in January 2013.

Dr María Pilar Farjas Abadía, Secretary General of Health and Consumers at the Spanish Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality finished the opening session of the conference discussing the importance of keeping the population healthy as it ages.  She praised the partnership for focusing on actions that will really have an impact on health for all individuals across Europe.

Following the opening remarks, the Action Plans of each of the six Action Groups in the partnership were presented by the leader of each group.  Prof. Sergio Pecorelli, President of the Italian Regulatory Agency for Medicines, gave a brief overview of the Action Plan on ‘Prescription and adherence to treatment’.  Patient Empowerment, explained Prof. Pecorelli, is at the core of the action. By developing early warning systems and IT platforms, the relative Action Group aims at improving patients’ adherence to care plans. The Action Group also intends to contribute to research and methodology on adherence and to foster communication between different actors.

Dr. Nick Guldemond, Program Director of Health at the Delft University of Technology, illustrated the Action Plan on ‘Personalized health management, starting with a Falls Prevention Initiative”. When considering that one in every three adults over 65 falls and that falls are one of the leading causes of injury deaths, Dr. Guldemond said that tackling this issue would permit not only to reduce costs but also to increase independence and quality of life for seniors in the EU.

Olle Ljungqvist, Professor of Surgery at the Örebro University Hospital in Sweden, talked about the Action Plan on ‘Prevention and early diagnosis of frailty and functional decline, both physical and cognitive, in older people”. Managing functional decline and frailty, empowering older people, promoting systematic routine screening in at risk patients and creating integrated pathways of care are among the main objectives of the plan.

The presentations continued with the speech of Professor George Crooks who serves as the Medical Director for NHS 24 and for the Scottish Centre for Telehealth & Telecare. He told the audience that the Action Plan on integrated care is the largest initiative within the EIP and is made up of 144 participants. Its aim is to deliver transformational change across the healthcare system in Europe. This year, a questionnaire was provided to the partners of the Action Plan to better understand the perspectives of regions and delivery organisations. In his final point, Prof. George Crooks called for greater collaboration among regions, delivery organisations, organisations of patients and carers, academia and industry.

Mariëlle Swinkels, Policy Advisor involved in the regional program ‘Health and Social Care Economy’ of the province of Noord-Brabant in the Netherlands, informed the participants about the Action Plan on ‘Development of interoperable independent living solutions, including guidelines for business models”. The targets set for 2015 focus on having key global standards and validated implementations of interoperable platforms as well as on gathering evidence on the Return on Investment of these solutions.

The presentation was concluded by Anne-Sophie Parent, Secretary General of AGE Platform Europe, who explained the headline objectives of the Action Plan on ‘Innovation for Age-friendly buildings, cities and environments”. The Action Group will contribute to achieving two additional healthy life years for older people in the European Union by fostering greater collaboration among private and public stakeholders and greater deployment of ICT solutions as well as by accelerating the implementation of supportive physical and social environments.

The morning session concluded with the intervention of John Beard, Director of the Department of Ageing and Life Course at the World Health Organization (WHO) talking about the organisation’s Strategy on Age-Friendly Cities encouraging cities to think about health promotion across the life course, primary health care and long-term care, age-friendly environments and rethinking ageing. For instance, New York City implemented changes to crossing-speeds after listening and responding to the needs described by older citizens. Mr. Beard also explained how New York City began using school buses to transport the elderly during the day when not in use – thus contributing to enhancing the quality of life of senior citizens with no additional costs to the city.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the European Commissioner for research, innovation and science, opened the afternoon session congratulating all members of the Action groups. Commissioner Quinn declared that it is necessary to keep the momentum going and turn ideas into actual results as the partnership evolves.  She also highlighted the importance of Horizon 2020 (the upcoming framework programme for research and innovation) for supporting the actions of the partnership to “identify gaps in knowledge, anticipate new and possible technologies and new models of social innovation and ensure rapid uptake.”

Overall the conference focused on the how the Commission’s pilot initiative has rapidly emerged from an idea into concrete plans with deliverables and timelines in order to reach the goals set by the Steering Committee in 2011.  As the first of its kind, the public/private partnership supported by three Commission Directorate Generals, is quickly moving ahead and the achievements expected through this new partnership approach will likely encourage new ways of working together to facilitate greater uptake of health technologies for all EU citizens.