Health First Europe welcomes the ‘Healthier Together – EU Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) Initiative’ to support Member States address the raising challenges posed by NCDs, which have been further amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.

For this EU NCD initiative, Health First Europe would like to make a strong call for action on screening and diagnosis, as well as secondary prevention as these offer an unequivocal societal value for improving patient safety, the quality of care in healthcare settings, and people’s general quality of life. Regular exams and screening can detect disease in its earliest stages, dramatically increasing the likelihood of preventing disease progression and reducing the risk of related complications and co-morbidities.

Last September, Health First Europe launched a comprehensive report on ‘The Compelling Case for Better Screening and Secondary Prevention in Europe: Lessons from Five Representative Diseases’ in order to highlight the value of screening and secondary prevention for improving patient safety, the quality of care in healthcare settings, and quality of life across Europe. The report outlines the value of action in the area of screening and secondary prevention as well as best practices and policy recommendations for five chronic disease areas, including those of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), which are part of the current EU NCD initiative.

Europe has many national success stories that could be copied and implemented more widely in other regions and member states without re-inventing the wheel. Tackling NCDs such as diabetes and CVDs is not only essential for the millions of people affected but also for the EU’s long-term social and economic strength. Strong action on NCDs would furthermore complement the ongoing efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthen Europe’s future pandemic preparedness and resilience. As these chronic conditions will continue to affect millions of people in Europe and stretch our healthcare systems and economies to their limits and well beyond the current pandemic, political, strategic, and financial support at EU level could provide vital reinforcement to national efforts to deliver best-practice health and social care for the benefit of people’s health and well-being.

Based on the case studies and recommendations set out for diabetes and CVDs in the HFE Insight Report, Health First Europe calls on EU and national health authorities to consider meaningful political action for screening and secondary prevention with the aim of saving and improving citizens’ lives while ensuring the sustainability of our healthcare systems in the face of growing public health challenges and threats.

EU and national actions should include:

  1. Integrating primary and secondary preventive strategies through comprehensive approaches to support the implementation of best practices and to minimise current health inequalities;
  2. Encouraging participation in population-based screening programmes in high-risk populations to help detect disease early, leading to faster, more precise, accessible and affordable screening and early detection;
  3. Promoting public awareness programmes to help citizens recognise signs and symptoms of preventable diseases or conditions and understand the importance of seeking screening and early diagnosis;
  4. Ensuring that care is multidisciplinary, and that delivery is timely to empower patients with care options while guaranteeing quality;
  5. Providing patients and healthcare providers with objective and independent guidance on screening and diagnoses in the context of the new EU-supported Cancer Screening scheme put forward by the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan;
  6. Continuing investment in training for highly qualified specialists critical to quality-of-care screening and care;
  7. Encouraging the digitalisation of health services across Member States and the adoption of new medical technologies allowing for more effective monitoring and action to reduce the risk of complications and improve quality of life;
  8. Setting up a robust information system to ensure information sharing between providers and across levels of care;
  9. Ensuring patients timely, equitable access to diagnostic services and treatment through appropriate reimbursement procedure in all relevant settings;
  10. Developing an EU-wide strategy for both diabetes and cardiovascular disease screening, diagnosis, and secondary prevention, encouraging the use of common screening tools across Europe to promote the exchange of data and best practices.

More detailed information can be found in the HFE Insight Report on ‘Better Screening and Secondary Prevention in Europe’. This contribution was supported by additional evidence-based recommendations provided by and under the remit of individual members of Health First Europe, such as the Heart Failure Policy Network and the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) Europe.