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On the occasion of the 5th Annual European Patients’ Rights Day, the European Economic and Social Committee together with the Active Citizenship Network organised a conference to discuss “Putting Citizens at the Centre of EU Health Policy.” Attended by a broad array of patients’ organisations, the conference aimed to emphasise the outcomes of a project undertaken by Active Citizenship Network members to determine how the rights of patients within the European Union are respected. The report suggests that the rights of patients – as outlined by the European Charter of Patients’ Rights – are not being fully respected and that much work still needs to be done to ensure patient empowerment so that all citizens understand how to take full advantage of their rights as patients.

The conference began with an outline of the project and the methodology utilised to determine how patients’ rights are respected throughout the Member States. Mr Alessandro Lamanna of Rosapaola Meastasio in Italy presented the report and outlined some particularities within the project that showed the right of patients to access (care), the right to free choice and the right to the respect of patients’ time, have not been respected. “Not respected” is the terminology for the lowest determination on the project’s scale. However, the rights to personalized treatment, preventative measures, privacy and confidentiality and physical access were found to be “almost respected” which was the highest term on the scale of the study.

The highlight of the conference included the keynote speech delivered by Health and Consumer Commissioner John Dalli in which he emphasized that the financial difficulties health systems now face should not cause Member States to lose sight of the values and principles on which EU health is based. He clearly cited the need to improve patient safety and argued that investment in e-Health systems will serve as the basis for sustainable and equitable European health systems. He declared that we must, “Build a Europe that puts patients first.”

Additionally, the European Citizen Network awarded some of its members for good practices for work engaging citizens and patients in health policy. One of Health First Europe’s individual members, Ms. Judy Birch of the Pelvic Pain Support Network, was awarded for the work achieved with regards to its “Patient Involvement in HTA and Clinical Guidelines.” Health First Europe congratulates the Pelvic Pain Support Network on this great achievement.

Overall, the conference provided a snap-shot of the aspects in which health systems must improve in order to respect the rights of patients. It also delineated the responsibility of patients in understanding and utilizing their rights to assist health stakeholders in better comprehending which needs are not being met to facilitate better patient experiences.