NEWS: UEHP FACTBOOK – “Private Hospitals in Europe”

On 7 November 2017, HFE joined the conference organised by the European Union of Private Hospitals (UEHP), and hosted by MEP Françoise Grossetête (Vice Chair of the European People’s Party Group) in the European Parliament. This event has been the occasion to officially launch the first edition of the Factbook “Private Hospitals in Europe: Supporting Sustainable Health Systems”, a very comprehensive report authored by Mr Hans Martens, European health expert, which reflects on the place of private hospitals in an evolving Europe of 28 member states.

As highlighted in the very first pages of the report, although Europes health systems have common features such as an aspiration to universal coverage and equal access, they are organised in very different ways. Consequently, it has become considerably more difficult to compare system performance across European borders and learn from each other’s best practices. The meeting in which HFE took part served as a learning experience and valuable starting point to reflect more on the current system and future challenges.

As emphasized by Mr Gabriele Pelissero, President of AIOP Italy, private sector combines a positive attitude towards innovation with a strong managerial efficiency. Here comes the need to give space to it in systems where it does not exist yet and to develop more into systems where it already provides its services.

Even though a significant decrease in hospital beds is observed in several EU member states (and OECD), the hospital private sector has increased from 17,56% to 20,45% of total EU beds (from 2007 to 2015) as a 16% progression in a global contracting market. Subsequently, a major challenge lies in the modernization of the provision of healthcare services, including innovation and necessary investment while respecting the strict budgetary constraints of the health systems in each country (Factbook).

The system urges reforms, as pointed out by Mr Hans Martens, author of the study. Sustainability is at the core of the debate. There is clear evidence that inequalities are widely spread across Europe, in terms of money and knowledge. In parallel, there is low awareness on how such inequalities are generated. Private hospitals in Europe do not create inequality, as the payer is generally using the same public health system that provides access to the public hospitals. Inequality is created by the financing system, how payments are made.

Private hospitals, in close collaboration with public hospitals, can offer more choice for patients and shorter waiting times for illnesses, and in many cases provide same or better quality of results than public hospitals for less money. It is thus essential that the system treats private and public hospitals in the same way, on a parity basis, as often underlined during the discussion with stakeholders and public officials, to make European health systems more sustainable and achieve sufficient investment levels to ensure health for all.

Ms Cristina Cartel, UEHP Vice President, called for the development of an integrated, flexible framework where cooperation exists alongside competition as a good incentive for quality.

It is clear that economic and financial pressure will continue to be high in Europe; demographic pressure negatively affects public finances as well as the European welfare state, restricting the investment capacity of the public sector, particularly in health. New models of managing the health sector according to the principles of Value Based Health care (VBHC) may represent the way forward, while exploiting the potential of national health systems, focusing more on patient satisfaction, opening up to higher levels of specialization and transforming repayment systems, ranging from a quantitative approach to quality.


Please find the press release below

NEWS: Launch event of the white paper on cancer carers

“It is time to start caring for carers”, MEP Heinz K. Becker


On 19th October 2017, HFE joined the launch event of the White Paper on Cancer Carers, organised by the European Cancer Patient Coalition (ECPC) and Eurocarers. Hosted by MEP Heinz K. Becker, the event represented a great opportunity to assess the achievements and shortcomings of the current policy framework with regard to carers and, especially, emphasise their fundamental role for patients, health systems and the whole society.

“I believe in social justice for all, for all generations”, stated MEP Becker (EPP, Austria) as first remark. Cares have numerous responsibilities and need greater attention. They provide 80% of care in Europe but the increasing burden of chronic diseases such as cancer mean that urgent policy action is needed to ensure the sustainability of caregiving. Here comes the imperative to develop a robust policy framework supporting cancer carers, raising awareness on their contribution and vital role, promoting their rights and developing accurate solutions to enhance patient care across Europe.

With populations ageing and cancer prevalence and widespread inequalities increasing worldwide, the White Paper testifies to the relevance of caregiving in patients with cancer and calls for concrete measures to meet carers’ needs.

The sustainability of caregiving depends upon recognition of its value. Across Europe, unpaid family carers and friends are the largest providers of health and social care support. Recognising them provides the Member State with an opportunity to manage the situation of caregiving, rather than be subject to the negative impacts of unsupported caregiving. So far, only twelve Member States have a formal recognition of carers – Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK -. Gender inequality, the current lack of information and support around cancers, together with the numerous financial and logistical burdens carers experience every day are additional aspects that need to be urgently addressed.

Mr Piet Van Nuffel, Member of the Cabinet of Commissioner Thyssen, emphasised how carers are essential for the whole society for the maintenance of the health system. The European Commission is thus highly committed to develop adequate social and health policies, and support Member States to achieve affordable, sustainable long-term care. In 2016, the Commission introduced the European Pillar of Social Rights, considered as being one of the cornerstones of health and long-term care systems in Europe. As part of the package of initiatives, it has also developed a legislative proposal on Work-Life Balance of Parents and Carer which includes the introduction of 5 days of paid leave for workers caring for a seriously ill or dependent relative.

Carers need flexible work arrangements, appropriate pension rights, training, psychological and financial support, as well as access to public services and national programmes, along with the full inclusion in a patient’s care team. “They are equal members of the care team”, highlighted Ms Charlotte Argyle, Carers Support Programme Manager at MacMillan Cancer Support. In line with this, all tools need to be deployed to develop integrated health and LTC services centered around the needs of the patient and the carer, encouraging the social inclusion and full integration of carers into the healthcare team.

In her closing remarks, MEP Jana Žitňanská (ECR, Slovakia) pointed out that more communication and involvement among health practitioners and policymakers need to exist at both European and national level. A coherent, integrated approach will mainstream caregiving across all major policy areas, and ensure the due recognition of the significant contribution made by carers to our welfare system and the economy. It is thus clear that providing carers with choice and support will ultimately result in giving people with cancer and their carers a proper quality of life.

NEWS: EU proportionality test: Economics vs Health?

On 18th October 2017, Health First Europe attended the meeting hosted by MEP Lieve Wierinck and MEP Peter Liese at the European Parliament. Thanks to the initiative of the Council of European Dentists (CED), the Standing Committee of European Doctors (CPME) and the Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union (PGEU), EU and national stakeholders gathered together to discuss ‘Economics vs Health? An EU Proportionality Test for Health Professions’.

The attendees engaged in dynamic discussion on the European Commission proposal for a Directive on proportionality test before adoption of new regulation of professions, which will have also an impact on the regulation of healthcare professions. Many participants warmly welcomed the Opinion of the ENVI committee, which supports the call for an exemption for health professions from the scope of the future Directive.

The Parliamentary Assistant Mr Remy Petitot, on behalf of MEP Françoise Grossetête, Rapporteur of the Opinion of the ENVI committee, stressed that “healthcare professionals have a public mission to patients (…) and they are already one of the most mobile professions in the European Union”. As it was highlighted by MEP Lieve Wierinck “proportionality is a general principle of EU law and must be respected. No one who has come to the European Parliament today challenges this principle. Instead, we aim to provide answers as to why when assessing proportionality of healthcare professional regulation, we should not use the same principles as for professions that provide services of pure economic interest”.

Irmfried Schwimann, the Deputy Director-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, presented the proposal: she stressed that the future Directive will be linked to the European Professional Qualification Directives and it aims to make more transparent and effective assessments of national rules on professional services.

Overall, the event was a great opportunity to present and discuss stakeholders’ position on this specific dossier. Healthcare professions count around 17 million jobs across the EU (8% of all jobs). It is vital for EU society and all stakeholders to keep on debating and sharing any concerns related to this highly important sector.

NEWS: HFE attends the meeting of the MEPs Interest Group European Patients’ Rights

On 3 May, HFE attended the meeting of the MEPs Interest Group on European Patients’ Rights and Cross-border healthcare focused on “Patients’ Rights have no borders… As well as risks!” to discuss the opportunities and risks of the application of the cross-border healthcare Directive in the European Union.

The idea to encourage a MEPs informal Interest Group on European Patients’ Rights and Cross-border healthcare was launched in May 2015 to fulfil the widespread request from more than 80 civic and patient organizations to the EU Parliament to move towards the institutionalization of the European Patients’ Rights Day as an effective message for European Institutions to put patients’ rights at the forefront of any discussion of healthcare system reform.

The meeting focused on the barriers EU citizens face when looking for medical treatments in another country. As stated by Mariano Votta, Director of Active Citizenship Network, “the biggest barrier is the financial one and as consequence cross border healthcare had only been available to those citizens with the means to afford it.” Furthermore, Mr Votta drew attention to the fact that “there is a need for increasing access to information at a European level, and that every citizen should know the treatment options that are available to them in order to receive the best care possible”. Other obstacles that made patients discard the option of looking for treatment in another European country are represented by language and cultural differences along with fraud and abuse that patients can experience while undertaking treatments abroad. Paul Vincke, Director of the European Healthcare Fraud and Corruption Network, remarked that “a solid cooperation is needed between member states and European Institutions to develop a user friendly communication platform and warning system, which would allow patients to be informed correctly before choosing healthcare services in another EU country”.

To overcome these barriers Mr Aurelien Pérez, Policy Officer within the Unit in charge of Cross border healthcare and eHealth at DG SANTE, described a few initiatives which have been undertaken by the European Commission, such as raising patient awareness on prior authorisation for medical treatment abroad, increasing cooperation between national authorities, and fostering data exchanges and best practices. He emphasised the critical role of the collaboration between the European Commission and European member states in sectors as health technology assessment, rare diseases, creation of European Reference Network and exchange of knowledge. He called on EU member states to strengthen national contact points, and pointed out that “an area that needs to be carefully defined is the process of reimbursements for those who receive healthcare services abroad”. Mr Pérez also drew attention on the fact that some healthcare systems are too complex for citizens that are not nationals of the country in which they are seeking treatment.

In her closing remarks, Ms Sonia Belfiore, Project Manager for the Active Citizenship Network, announced that ACN will soon start an awareness raising campaign in different EU languages to engage in cooperation with governments in a national and local level, and to guarantee that all European citizens are properly informed about their rights to go abroad for care.

NEWS: Healthcare for person with disability – Home and abroad

On 25th January 2017, HFE joined the conference on access to healthcare for persons with disabilities organised by the International Federation for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus (IFSBH) in cooperation with the European Patients’ Forum (EPF) and the European Disability Forum (EDF). In this occasion, two reports on “Right to health: reality of persons with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus” and “Impact of cross-border healthcare on persons with disabilities and chronic conditions” have been launched, aimed at assessing access to healthcare for persons with disabilities and making concrete recommendations on what still needs to be done..

Both reports show a clear lack of multidisciplinary care for people with complex disabilities, such as spina bifida and hydrocephalus, which limited coverage of mobility devices and continence aids. Moreover, waiting times and limited knowledge are considered the most serious obstacles that European citizens do experience. Despite the Article 25 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which clearly calls on States Parties to recognise that persons with disabilities have the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health without discrimination on the basis of disability, human rights of persons with disabilities and chronic conditions are continuously violated as they struggle to access appropriate and affordable healthcare in their community. According to the report on Right to health: reality of persons with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, only 17% of patients affected by Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus (SBH) have a multidisciplinary clinic in their area and the 29% find access to care very difficult. The worst case scenario is in Poland, followed by Portugal. Moreover, the financial coverage of treatment and assistive products for patients with SBH is grossly insufficient.

As emphasised by Ms Ruta Udraite (IF Member), persons with SBH need an integrated system to deliver complex multidisciplinary care, where patients can see all the specialists without the need to get various appointments for different specialists at different locations. The existence of multidisciplinary care is a way of prevention of medical complications, costly surgeries, negative attitudes and stigmas. It may also impact people’s satisfaction with the care they receive.

What also needs to be tackled is the low use and low awareness across Europe on the Directive 2011/24/EU on the application of patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare. As highlighted by IF research findings, the 85% of the European population has never used cross-border healthcare. Provision of healthcare is and should be considered by all EU Member States as an area of shared competences. Therefore, more involvement of representative organisations together with a wider EU guidance on the National Contact Points are crucial to enhance the impact of EU legislation on patients with disabilities and chronic conditions in all European countries.

In line with this, Mr Laurent Louette, Communications Officer at the European Patients’ Forum (EPF), introduced the audience to the new campaign on access to healthcare entitled ‘Universal health coverage for all’, aimed at raising awareness and contributing to make the access to care a reality for EU patients by 2030.

MEP Nessa Childers (S&D, Ireland) pointed out that there are 8 million people with disabilities across Europe and much more actions need to exist to meet the needs of vulnerable groups. Financial burden of medical tourism, lack of information as well as a language barrier have all been invoked as reasons for not seeking care in another EU Member States. EU policy makers need to urgently tackle the lack of EU-level measures to ban discrimination against persons with disabilities in access to health and analyse the impact of its cross-border healthcare legislation on patients with disabilities.

Mr Martin Rutherfurd, legal officer at the Directorate on Cross border healthcare and eHealth at DG SANTE, highlighted “How the cross-border Directive represent both a codification of jurisprudence and a new set of legislation”. However, people also need to bear in mind other social security regulations while seeking treatment abroad.

Disability knows no borders, no boundaries; it’s time to streamline what EU does’, said MEP Diane Dodds (UK) in her closing remarks. Much more communication, involvement and coherence among health practitioners and teams need to exist. A multidisciplinary approach along with a major awareness on the Directive on cross border healthcare will positively impact people’s lives, by developing more accessible and sustainable health services, and making all citizens with disabilities fully exercise their right to health both home and abroad.

NEWS: Don’t Brexit on rare disease patients – The case of primary immunodeficiencies

On Tuesday 24th January 2017, Health First Europe attended the 8th PID FORUM organised by the International Patient Organisation for Primary Immunodeficiencies (IPOPI) in the European Parliament to discuss the impact of Brexit on patients affected by rare diseases in both the EU and UK.

As highlighted by MEP Seb Dance (S&D, UK) in his introductory notes, Brexit symbolises the withdrawal of a key Member States in Europe that has and will have inevitable impact in many areas, especially in the healthcare sector. Over time, ‘the United Kingdom has developed an advanced level of medical research which has made positively outcomes for patients and job seekers. This does not have to be lost in two years of negotiations’, pointed out MEP Dance. On the contrary, networks are important and need to be strengthened among EU Member States, sharing new recommendations and practices.

In line with this, MEP Zorrinho (S&D, Portugal) declared that it is the right time to reinforce connections across Europe, dealing with citizens’ rights and being aware of correct priorities to guarantee the best assessment of treatment and care.

Mr Johan Prevot, Executive Director at IPOPI, shared a comprehensive presentation on what primary immunodefinciencies are and how the European Union supports them, favouring mobility and supporting developments of rare diseases’ plans. IPOPI is highly committed to raise awareness on this matter and influence the reality after Brexit. In this regard, a new set of recommendations both in the UK and EU will be developed and launched soon to support future discussions and ensure that PID care does not suffer from the Brexit.

Dr Siobhan Burns, Reader and Consultant in Immunology, presented his work at the University College London Centre for Immunodeficiency where multicenter trials are conducted for gene therapy for PIDs. Gene therapy has been supported by EU funding for the past 15 years. Here comes the need to keep the focus and ensure the UK participation in the H2020 Framework Programme. According to the British perspective, the challenges of Brexit are numerous, such as the access to clinical trials for patients, the disruption to current academic collaborations and networks, the lost opportunities for training doctors and the impact on recruitment for patients. Furthermore, the level of uncertainty, the increase of medication costs and employment difficulties for EU nationals are additional political challenges that may result from Brexit, as stated by Ms Sarita Workman, specialist sister in Immunologic Research at the Royal Free Hospital.

For all these aforementioned reasons, health care agreements need to be maintained to ensure the best quality of care for patients. More investment in cross-border healthcare along with more cooperation and sharing of best practices are key elements to strengthen the collaboration between health practitioners and policymakers. As underlined by Ms Susana Lopes da Silva, doctor at the Hospital Lusíadas in Lisboa, education and networking are crucial elements to maintain the bonds with the UK for the best interest of patients.

While it is clear that ‘Brexit will lead to market and currency fluctuations and will have an impact on patient community’, as stated Ms Amanda Box, CEO at the European Haemophilia Consortium (EHC), it is time to reinforce solidarity and community in shaping the upcoming agenda on Primary Immunodeficiencies at EU level. In this frame, as a basis for further Brexit discussions and future negotiations, new recommendations will be developed, sent to several MEPs and shared with different interested parties.

NEWS: Community care – centerpiece of health policies

Brussels, 3 June 2015 – Today the Latvian Presidency in collaboration with Health First Europe encourages supporting and investing in the development of policies to improve care for patients specifically in community settings. Launching the “Declaration for Making Patient – Centered Community Care a Reality,” the Latvian Presidency promotes the importance of patient-centered care for all citizens in Europe.

The declaration encourages all stakeholders to focus on supporting Member States to:

  • Increase preventive care in the community
  • Facilitate access to innovation for patients in the community setting
  • Support training of healthcare professionals in the community
  • Promote integrated care across all points of patient care
  • Strengthen the governance of integrated care

Launching the declaration, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Health Ms. Solvita Zvidriņa remarked:

EU has an important role to play in supporting Member States to implement better and smarter healthcare policies that put the patient at the center of care in all settings. Promoting quality and better care in the community and smarter use of healthcare services will help to ensure greater health and wealth for all in Europe.”

To ensure genuine shifts away from treatment-driven systems towards preventive care, policy frameworks on community care at EU level should be implemented that would help to enable citizens, carers and innovation to work together towards a common goal of citizen well-being.

To read the Declaration, click here.

For further details, please contact:

Amanda Massey

Executive Director

+32 (0)2 626 1999

NEWS: Health First Europe attends the 9th European Patients’ Rights Day

On 12 May, HFE attended the 9th European Patients’ Rights dedicated to sustainability of healthcare systems with a specific focus on the burned of chronic diseases. Organised by the Active Citizenship Network (ACN), the 9th edition of the European Patients’ Rights Day represented a moment to reflect and discuss on the current state of the European Charter of Patients’ rights launched in 2003 and to outline the future ACN actions particularly the establishment of a European Parliamentary interest group on European Patients’ Rights and Cross-Border Healthcare.

Active Citizenship Network is an umbrella association of about 100 civic organizations from 30 countries aimed towards developing an European Active citizenship. In 2013, ACN launched the European Charter of Patients’ Rights to guarantee a “high level of human health protection” (Article 35 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union) and to assure the high quality of services provided by the various national health services in Europe.

The 9th European Patients’ Rights Day Primary brought together patients organizations, health professionals, the European Commission and representatives of the European Parliament to reflect on the role and the responsibilities of policymakers and health stakeholders to make healthcare systems sustainable and efficient, and to create an integrated approach able to balance cost reduction, social equity and quality of care.

MEP Borrelli (EFDD, IT) and MEP Pittella (S&D President, IT) who supported the event, engaged themselves as members of new EP Interest Group on European Patients’ Rights and Cross-Border Healthcare and pointed out that patients’ rights, as stated in the Charter, are non-negotiable and universal values to be guaranteed to all the European citizens.

Mr Martin Seychell, Deputy Director General for Consumers and Health at DG Santé gave a broad overview of the key figures on the challenges of chronic diseases and patients’ rights in the framework of EU. The European Commission approach on chronic diseases is at the same time holistic, in the sense that main chronic diseases’ problem can be tackled in same way, and specific as the treatment of chronic disease might require personalised care to meet patients ‘needs. He announced that the Commission is currently working on a report on patients ‘rights in the European Member States to be published in October.

The 2 panels discussed the role of different actors in developing sustainable healthcare systems and the role of prevention and innovation in sustainable healthcare systems. The first panel reflected on how to avoid further infringements on patients’ rights due to indiscriminate national budget reductions which, in some cases, have turned the right to the right treatment and dignity for chronic patients into a privilege. In order to tackle this problem, the European Commission is currently assessing national healthcare systems to propose and provide social equitable solutions for reform. As stated by MEP Pedinici, “We cannot change the current economic situation, but we can reduce the cost connected to bad management and the waste of resources”. The second panel focused on the research of more effective and smarter approaches to the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases and to the preservation of “life with dignity” for patients. Innovation remain a critical element of all healthcare reforms.

In his closing remarks, Mr. Mariano Motta, Director of Active Citizenship Network, stated that the “sustainability of healthcare systems is a common good to be safeguarded, but protection of patients’ rights should not be overlooked.” Therefore, he called for the institutionalization of the European Patients’ Rights Day as an effective message for European Institutions to put patients’ rights at the forefront of any discussion of healthcare system reform.

NEWS: Health First Europe attends the 5th Primary Immunodeficiencies Forum

On 4 November, HFE attended the 5th Primary Immunodeficiencies (PID) Forum organised by International Patient Organisation for Primary Immunodeficiencies (IPOPI). Chaired by MEP Dr. Cristian Busoi (EPP, RO) and MEP Dr. Boleslaw Piecha (ECR, PL) the meeting reflected on the development of a comprehensive framework of care and policy to deal with PIDs at the European level.

PIDs represent a group of more than 250 genetic rare disorders which affect the human immunity system. IPOPI is the Association of national patient organisations dedicated to improving awareness, access to early diagnosis and optimal treatments for primary immunodeficiency (PID) patients worldwide.

The 5th Primary Immunodeficiencies Forum brought together patients, health professionals, patient organizations, representatives of the European Parliament, the European Commission, and industry to hold a debate on the challenges facing patients with PIDs in Europe and define a common and concrete pathway to better address PIDs.

Mr. Johan Prévot, Executive Director of IPOPI, gave a broad overview of the definition of PIDs and patients’ needs. He pointed out the urgency to have a comprehensive framework for PIDs, “there is a need for a macro-social approach for these conditions” and he suggested building a bridge between policy and care. He reminded participants how early diagnosis can insure a very high quality of life to PIDs patients, but unfortunately PIDs are not easily to diagnose and in the European Member States there is poor knowledge of these conditions.

Given the specificity and need of access to the most modern technologies to treat these diseases, he also remarked on the crucial role of innovation and research to treat these diseases. Genetic screening, newborn screening and genetic therapies can facilitate early diagnosis and improve patients’ quality of life and the development of an efficient and well organized European Health Technology Assessment system is a priority.

Dr Mahlaoui as a doctor specialised in PIDs identified the main medical challenges of PDIs in evaluating outcomes of new research on therapies, improving treatments and care, creating an European register to measure therapy improvement and outcomes, establishing an European Reference Network of highly specialised healthcare providers which represents a clear added value for the European Union and will help to provide affordable, high-quality and cost-effective healthcare to patients with conditions requiring a particular concentration of resources or expertise.

Finally, Ms. Jose Drabwell gave an overview of the PIDs at the international level. She emphasized the unacceptable difference of treatments between continents, countries and hospitals in the same city. Based on her professional and personal experience, she stressed the economic burden of PIDS for the national health systems. In her opinion the situation can improve only developing and incentivising the already existing home therapies, which might represent an improvement in patients` life and cost reduction for the national economies.

In the closing remarks, the chairs MEP Dr. Cristian Busoi (EPP, RO) and MEP Dr. Boleslaw Piecha (ECR, PL)MEPs offer their time and their support to keep working on PIDs and pushing for European legislation which puts patients’ interest at the centre.

NEWS: Health First Europe 10th Anniversary Reception, European Parliament

On 12 November, HFE celebrated its 10 year Anniversary by launching a new European Parliamentary Interest Group on Innovation in Health and Social Care.  Hosted by Co-Chair of the Interest Group, Marian Harkin (ALDE, IE), the reception brought together a variety of EU officials and health stakeholders to discuss the achievements of Health First Europe, the future aims of the organisation, and the priorities for the Interest Group which will hold its first meeting in 2015.

Speaking about the origins of Health First Europe, Honorary John Bowis shared that “Health First Europe was originally formed around the issue of patient safety and needlestick injuries to healthcare professionals.”  He discussed how he first became involved with HFE as a Member of the European Parliament, as he was given a tour of a healthcare organisation in which he met with healthcare professionals impacted by preventable injuries.  Mr. Bowis emphasised how Health First Europe “comes to policymakers with solutions, not problems, which makes it unique in its work at European level.”

With regards to the future work of HFE, Mr. Bowis expressed that the organisation looks forward to working with EU stakeholders to bring forward policy solutions to issues of organisation of care, access to health and social care, patient involvement and researching the value of innovation in health.  HFE will utilise the new Interest Group as a vehicle to bring forward such solutions.

MEP Harkin also shared with invited guests her successful experiences working with Interest Groups and the impact such groups can have on policies in the European Parliament.  She discussed her ambitions for the Interest Group in the next term including focusing on research, health promotion and public health, particularly around the role of carers and healthcare professionals across the health and safety spectrum given her work on the Employment and Social Affairs Committee.

The first meeting of the European Parliament Interest Group on Innovation and Health and Social Care will take place in 2015 and Health First Europe looks forward to working with our friends and colleagues across the EU to ensure public health is a key priority in the next term.

NEWS: EP Interest Group on Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases

On 18 March, HFE attended the 13th meeting of the European Parliament Interest Group on Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases (RMDs). Chaired by MEP Edite Estrela (S&D, Portugal) the meeting reflected on the contribution of the group to public health at EU level and the main challenges for the next Parliament and Commission.

Given that rheumatic diseases elicit the highest cost to European health care and socioeconomic systems (more than 200 billion euros per year), EULAR has been working to reduce the burner of rheumatic diseases on individuals and the society and to improve the treatment, the prevention and rehabilitation of people affected by RMDs. Since 2009, EULAR is running the Secretariat of the EP Interest Group on RMDs. This EP Interest Group involves 25 MEPs and several stakeholders and it aims at gathering information, raising awareness, promoting discussion and EP initiatives on RMDs.

At the final meeting of the group before the European elections, various stakeholders provided their views regarding the progress achieved and the remaining challenges for people with rheumatic diseases.  Sylvain Giraud, Head of the Unit for Health Strategy and International issues at DG SANCO, gave a broad overview of the European Commission’s work in public health, reiterating the need to see health as value and an engine for growth. He reminded participants that, “Health is connected strongly with social cohesion, it a key figure on public spending and it is an economic sector with enormous growing possibilities”. He also remarked that European Health systems are facing several challenges, among the others the economic crisis, the increasing of inequalities, cross border threats, the free movement of products and people.  Despite health policies are a national responsibility, the EU has worked in direction of proving a legal framework to coordinate health national policies such as through the Europe 2020 Strategy, the EU Health Strategy, and the Investing in Health Paper launched in 2013.  The Commission aims to support Member States to guarantee the highest possible level of public health to European citizens by improving health service, fostering prevention and facilitating cross border healthcare. Mr. Giraud underlined the value of “working together in the health sector”, in his opinion health should be targeted through all the EU policies.

Building upon the work of the European Commission, Kai Michelsen, Assistant Professor at Maastricht University’s Faculty of International Health, provided a critical overview of EU action on health from an academic perspective. He did not deny the central role of the EU institutions in tackling with common health challenges, polling resources, but he pointed out the difficulties the European Commission must face when it comes to balancing priorities and economic resources.

Finally, Leonardo Palumbo, Policy Coordinator for EU Affairs at the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), presented EPHA’s Manifesto for the European Parliament elections. EPHA calls on political parties and individual Members of the European Parliament candidates to ensure that health and well-being in Europe are ranked as high as they are valued. Mr. Palumbo summarized the 4 priorities of EPHA’s Manifesto which include:  Refocus Europe’s Business Plan on the well-being of people; Create a people-centric economy: quality work for all; Create an inclusive, sustainable society; and to encourage strong public-interest based health policy.

In her closing remarks, MEP Estrela thanked the participants of the EP Interest Group on Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases (RMDs) for their hard work during the past 5 years and emphasised that it is necessary to do more to keep improving the lives of people affected by RMDs.

NEWS: HFE attends European Commission Conference “Health in Europe – Making it fairer”

On 18 March, the European Commission hosted an event to tackle the issues of health inequalities across Europe.  Given the economic crisis and the reduction in expenditure by European health systems, the event was timely and was a reminder of the fact that health is a right for everybody and the most vulnerable must be protected.  The full day conference brought together policymakers and civil society from a variety of disciplines to debate, discuss, and drive the next steps at EU level towards fairness in health.

The leaders of the European Commission opened the conference focusing on the fundamental rights of European citizens to quality healthcare.  European Commission Vice-President and Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs, Viviane Reding, highlighted the fact that “the right to healthcare transcends many policy areas including gender equality, data protection and anti-discrimination.” Commissioner for Health, Tonio Borg, agreed and noted that while there are positive signs such as gaps narrowing amongst Member States in infant mortality and life expectancy, “Europe is still not a union in health and the divergences are still too great.”  Commissioner Borg noted that “no health system in Europe is sustainable without reform” and suggested that the Member States still need to be convinced to change health structures for long-term sustainability and fairness.

Representatives from diverse constituencies presented keynote speeches looking at how inequalities in a variety of disease areas impact on the overall health of society.  Michel Roland from Doctors of the World, suggested that patient needs must be respected regardless of immigration status, sexual orientation, ethnicity or health status.  He declared that, “Medical ethics must come first.”  Robert Johnston from the European Patients’ Forum also echoed this sentiment and called for EU equal treatment legislation to protect patients based on health status and chronic conditions to prevent discrimination which is strongly linked to health inequalities.

The panel sessions of the conference focused on three priority areas from a European Commission perspective – equity in addressing chronic diseases, HIV/AIDS, and health of people in vulnerable situations.  The objectives of these sessions were to look at how to improve health in each of these areas, improve access to healthcare and to combat discrimination, with the aim of producing conference conclusions from the debates to inform on the next steps at EU level.  From a chronic diseases perspective, it was clear that equity remains a challenge especially given that the European region of is the most affected by chronic diseases of the six WHO regions and the trend is on the increase.  Michael Hubel, Head of Unit for Programme Management and Diseases at DG SANCO, remarked that “the way patients interact with the health and social system is incredibly important for how diseases develop.” Discussing health inequalities in cancer, coronary heart diseases and mental health, the panelists agreed that there are still great stigmas attached to certain populations and more links between primary and social care are needed to protect vulnerable people.

The conference clearly highlighted that there is still a significant problem in Europe in providing access to healthcare for all.  Whether due to discrimination (at individual or systemic levels) or because of poor implementation of laws to protect the vulnerable, promotion of best practices and greater research and data need to be supported to encourage truly equitable access to care.

NEWS: Health First Europe attends the Equity Action final conference

On 23 January, HFE attended the Equity Action final conference on Addressing health inequalities 2014 and beyond: Building Cohesion and Strengthening Health for Growth”. The event showcased the tools and expertise developed by Equity Action during its three years of activity. The project assessed the progress on addressing health inequality in the EU and considered opportunities and challenges for future actions.

Equity Action is a joint action programme that was launched in 2011 which aimed to support EU Member States and Institutions to develop effective policies to reduce health inequalities. The project brought together 15 Member States and Norway, non – governmental bodies and the European Commission (EC). According to scientific evidence, social determinants play a crucial role in health.  For example, the lower a person’s social position, the worse his/her health is likely to be. The effect of this social gradient on health can be seen across social groups by age, gender and ethnicity.

Commissioner for Health Mr. Tonio Borg provided a general overview of Equity Action, underlining the decline of infant mortality and the reduction of the life expectancy gap across EU regions. However, he acknowledged that the gap in healthy life expectancy is wider and that people with lower income can expect to spend many years living with a limiting disability compared to people with higher incomes. Commissioner Borg suggested that in order to reduce health inequalities the EU needs to invest in cost-effective spending, structural reforms and sound innovation to bring efficiency gains and secure better health outcomes.

Highlighting the massive progress which has been achieved towards reducing inequality in the health sector, Mr. Michel Marmot, Director of the Institute of Health Equality at the University College London (UCL), said “this topic was a dirty secret until three years ago and today reducing health inequalities is on the agenda of the EC”. Despite this improvement, however, Mr Marmot noted that inequalities are increasing in several Member States due to the economic crisis. He asserted that this negative trend should push EU Member States and Institutions to adopt a clear, multi-sector, multi-level strategy to tackle health inequalities.

Several EU Health Ministries participated in the event including Ireland, Spain, UK, and Belgium. These countries shared their own national experiences tackling combatting inequalities which were characterised by two common elements: 1) a multi-stakeholder approach to reduce health inequalities; 2) having the economic support from the European Union.  On this last point, Mr. Ralph, Adviser to the Director General for Regional and Urban Policy (DG REGIO), suggested that the ongoing negotiations for EU Cohesion Policy and Structural and Investment Funds should define priorities and programmes that consider the issue of health inequalities.

Mr. Georgiadis Adonis, Greek Minister of Health, called for a European vision to improve people’s lives. He underlined, “Europeans life expectancy is increasing but the economic crisis is enhancing inequalities between people with low and high incomes”. Furthermore, he noted that poor people have a higher possibility to be affected by chronic diseases, mental disorders and cancer and declared that Europe needs to invest in health and growth.  Mr. Adonis also reiterated that the reduction of social inequalities has been listed among the Greek Presidency’s health priorities.

Mr. John Ryan, Acting Director for Public Health at DG SANCO, concluded by calling for the creation of an alliance among practitioners, civil society and governments to reduce health inequalities. He underlined the European Commission’s objective of enhancing collaboration with Member States on actions to reduce health inequalities across all 28 Member States in the follow on actions from the Equity Action project.

NEWS: Health First Europe attends the World IBD Campaign Final Conference

On 17 October, HFE attended the final conference of the World IBD Campaign at the European Parliament.  The event, organised by HFE member the European Federation of Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis Associations (EFCCA), with the support of MEP Cofferati (S&D, Italy) and MEP Panayotova (EPP, Bulgaria), discussed the priorities and needs of people living with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) from 3 perspectives: employment and labour market, healthcare and research, youth and education.

Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) affect over 2.2 million people in Europe, men and women alike. In most cases the illness can be kept under control with medication, but despite extensive research there is currently no known cause or cure for IBD.  As emphasized by MEP Cofferati, “there is a lack of awareness of these chronic diseases. There is a need for societal mobilization especially in a moment of economic crisis that could affect research and health for IBD patients.”

The first panel on “Employment and Labour market” focused on the current labour legislation for people affect by IBDs. Mr. Alvaro Oliveira from the Directorate General for Justice at the European Commission, clarified that people with chronic diseases can be protected under European legislation against discrimination. The directive 2000/78 prohibits discrimination in recruitment, working conditions, training and career progression. The panel highlighted that despite the fact that both European and international legislation have became more and more protective towards people affected by chronic diseases, these people are still victims of discrimination in the work place. Ms. Bjornsdottir, an EFCCA member, explained that small changes in the working place, for instance flexible hours, working from home and work stations with easy access to a toilet, could improve the lives of people suffering from IBDs.

The second Panel on “healthcare and research” pointed out the necessity to guarantee safe access and rights to treatment for all people affected by long-life diseases. EFCCA called for the identification of European guidelines for IBD carers and treatments, which would be applied in all the EU Member States. EFCCA highlighted that IBD patients` quality and length of life depends on quality care. IBD care covers all components of individual and social life, not only medical diagnosis. EFCCA Chairman, Marco Greco stated that “To reduce the impact of IBDs in society, it needs to improve the access to specialised medical care for IBD patients and support them through multidisciplinary teams. Moreover, it is necessary to create new healthcare services which do not oblige the patient to go to the hospital.”

The last panel on “Youth and education” focused and young IBD patients. Prof. Vecchi defined these diseases as a “challenge”. The diagnosis is difficult, and a late diagnosis can have a negative impact on patient health, due to succession of periods of sickness and remittance. Maintaining treatment is essential even in periods of remittance; otherwise IBD patients can face severe complications. These diseases often hit young adults and data has shown a growing percentage of teenagers are being affected by IBD. It means that these pathologies often have a terrible impact on the educational and professional lives of young patients.

Prof.Simon Travis closed the conference by presenting the next goals for IBD patients including increasing awareness of IBD diseases and improving quality of life for people affected by these pathologies. To achieve these aims, patients have to be involved in national strategies on IBDs. However. Mr. Travis suggested that the EU has a role to play and should support scientific research on the causes of IBDs, and should include inflammatory diseases in the list of chronic pathologies to provide wider protection of patient rights.