3 April 2012 – Health First Europe attended the European Commission’s conference on the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) on Active and Healthy Ageing (AHA) which looked to launch the Partnership from the planning stage to the implementation stage.  With the political support and participation of three European Commissioners including Neelie Kroes, John Dalli and Laszlo Andor, the conference highlighted the progress made over the last year towards reaching the EU 2020 goal of two additional healthy life years for European citizens by 2020.  Following the Commission’s Communication in February 2012, the conference brought together stakeholders from all areas of health to inspire implementation of the Strategic Implementation Plan adopted by the Commission for taking forward priority action areas in integrated care and healthy ageing throughout the EU.

Opening the conference, Vice-President and Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes championed the Commission’s new way of working through public/private partnerships and suggested that the demographic changes Europe is facing cannot be solved by thinking small.  She stated, “We need a whole new way of operating, to turn this into an opportunity, to turn costs into investments. Smart innovation with ICT can help.” Following Commissioner Kroes, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Affairs, John Dalli, also declared that smart investment is the key to ensuring sustainable healthcare services throughout Europe.  He further suggested that a partnership approach is essential stating, “Only by working together, by pooling valuable knowledge and resources can we take significant steps for care services.”  Lastly, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, Lazlo Andor, connected the aims of the EIP on AHA to employment and social inclusion goals for Europe.  He explained that the only way to ensure people are working is to ensure they are healthy. He stated that ageing will transform Europe – either for better or worse and declared that only by putting social innovation at the core of public policy, will this transformation be positive.

Following the opening of the conference by the Commissioners, the first session focused on the Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) and included panelists from various organisations which participated in the Steering Committee and were responsible for the development of the SIP.  As the SIP begins to be implemented by stakeholders throughout the EU, representatives such as the European Patients’ Forum, the AGE Platform, Philips, Danone, the Danish Ministry of Finance, Italian Medicines Agency and Capricorn Venture Partners discussed how they envision committing to the partnership and how it will continue to develop over the coming year.  In particular, Nicola Bedlington of the European Patients’ Forum stressed that the partnership “must have at its’ heart the human dimension – the rights and needs of older patients.”  The various stakeholders on the panel showcased how partnerships have already formed for implementing projects on a larger scale in order to reach more patients, provide better outcomes, and achieve greater efficiency utilising a partnership approach.

The event broke into parallel sessions for participants to learn more about ongoing work which underwrites many of the action areas and goals of the EIP on AHA. In the integrated care session, Ministers from Northern Ireland and the Basque Region of Spain discussed how their Ministries are using innovative organisational tools to produce integrated care models which benefit patients and also provide cost savings to the system.  George Crooks, Clinical Director/Chief Operating Officer for NHS 24 in Scotland highlighted that today’s systems “have to encourage patients to think of themselves as deliverers of their own care” and suggested that co-production of care must be part of an integrated health system.

Ending the conference will practical information about how to participate in the EIP on AHA, Maria Iglesia-Gomez, Head of Unit, Innovation for Health and Consumers at DG SANCO, announced the launch of the marketplace for ideas which will assist stakeholders in finding partners to undertake projects which meet the criteria laid out in the SIP.  She emphasised the various avenues for stakeholder participation in addition to the marketplace for ideas, including the invitations for commitment and reference sites.  All three aspects allow for stakeholders to participate in ways which are conducive to their ongoing work on active and healthy ageing.  Paul Timmers, Director, ICT for Addressing Societal Challenges at DG INFSO, added further information about what stakeholders can expect to get out of the partnership including facilitation and assistance in overcoming barriers to the innovation process, achieving scalable results, exchanging of good practice and learning from one another, championing good and proven models, products and other innovative solutions and being an opinion leader on innovation for active and healthy ageing.

Overall, the conference showcased a new and successful way of working in the EU – the public/private partnership.  Having put emphasis on aligning funding instruments, stakeholders should find it easier to participate in developing and replicating successful projects in active and healthy ageing which benefit health systems, healthcare professionals, industry and, most of all patients.  The partnership will continue to develop over the coming months and the Commission expects to bring all interested stakeholders together again before the end of the year to review the progress achieved and evaluate how much further stakeholders can do together.