NEWS: Health First Europe attends EPC/CHES Policy Dialogue on healthy ageing

On 12 March, the European Policy Centre (EPC) together with the Coalition for Health, Ethics and Society (CHES) organised an open debate between key actors involved in active and healthy ageing issues from all areas of society. Participants represented community and health services, transportation and building and housing to discuss how to develop more age-friendly environments in societies and how to ensure ongoing initiatives and projects across policy areas at both local and EU level.

Lisa Warth, Coordinator of the WHO Global Network on Age-friendly Cities and Communities, highlighted that Active and Healthy Ageing is the process of optimising opportunities for health, participation and security. In order to promote good health and healthy behaviors at any age, it should be considered that adapting urban environments in cities (public transports, buildings) represents one of the key elements to improve the daily life of the most vulnerable people. In 2010, the WHO Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities initiative was launched in order to contribute to this mutual support and commitment between local public authorities, communities and citizens.

Discussing how to turn the “silver” economy into “gold,” Vappu Taipale, Co-President of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and Chair of the Union for Senior Services in Finland, explained how active and healthy ageing is a major opportunity for Europe. Traditionally seen as a burden and charge to the society, elder people play an important role in the labour market and present a real opportunity to exploit for economic growth. Ms. Taipale explained that Initiatives have to ensure more empowerment for older people, better support for independent living and further creation of innovative solutions (services, products) in this development as well. Today, societies need to find new solutions, new resources and new service designs to make a societal environment more flexible and accessible to everyone. Main elements include, among the others, principal support and commitment between key stakeholders in the area of active and healthy ageing, listening and working with other people, adoption of an integrated approach and multi-sector partnerships and design for diversity.

Speaking on behalf of the European Commission, Jorge Pinto Antunes, Policy officer – Innovation for Health and Consumers, DG Health and Consumers, reminded participants that active and healthy ageing is one of the most significant ongoing societal challenges which is where the concept of the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing derived. A platform for age-friendly cities and regions is one of the horizontal actions of the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing (EIP AHA).

Overall, speakers considered that Europe needs an attitude change and a shift in mindset towards active and healthy ageing. To ensure the challenges and opportunities of demographic changes are on the policy agenda, the European Union has already launched various initiatives that support active and healthy ageing in diverse areas such as the Smart Cities and Communities Initiative or the current European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing (among others). However, efforts must be pursued to increase awareness on the huge potentiality of older people in the society at large.

NEWS: Public hearing of the EESC on “Partnering in Research and Innovation on the example of the pilot partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing”

On 7 February, Health First Europe attended a public hearing on the European Commission Communication’s “Partnering on Research and Innovation on the current example of the pilot partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing in the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). During the meeting, the European Economic and Social Committee warmly welcomed the Commission’s initiative to establish and promote European Innovation Partnerships (EIPs), which are geared towards organising the European research and innovation cycle in a more effective way. Representatives from the European Parliament, the European Commission and the European Economic and Social Committee participated in order to give their opinions and discuss the European Commission partnering approach.

Under the 2010 Innovation Union flagship initiative, the European Commission launched a new model of actions: the concept of partnerships. This concept helps to denote where innovation is lacking by highlighting priorities in certain areas in order to achieve the goals of the Innovation Union which includes removing obstacles to innovation and revolutionizing the way public and private sectors work together.

The European Innovation Partnerships provide an overarching framework for the various partnership models by bringing together European and national-level players from the public sector in public-public partnerships (P2P) and public-private (PPP) partnerships, as explained by Dr. Octavi Quintana Trias – Director of the Directorate-General for Research & Innovation (RTD) at the European Commission. Today, the partnering approach can help address major societal challenges and strengthen Europe’s competitive position by making the R&I cycle more efficient and shortening the time from research to market. Partnerships involve varying degrees of joint effort: policy level (such as Joint Programming which is an emerging P2P concept funded on high-level commitment to address a particular societal challenge) or programmes (such as ERA-NET on rare diseases which is the closest integration of national programmes). The benefits of this partnering method are various include facilitating scaling up and multiplying examples, joining resources and expertise and bridging gaps thus improving framework conditions.

As regards the initiatives in health, the pilot European Innovation Partnership (IEP) on Active and Healthy Ageing (AHA) is intended to test the concept and assess how it can best be implemented. According to Maria Iglesia Gomez , Head of the Innovation Unit, Directorate-General for Health and Consumers (SANCO) at the European Commission, the use of this new partnering approach will aim to reach the ambitious European target “+ 2 healthy life years by 2020” by ensuring health equality of life, long-term sustainability and economic growth.MEP Heinz K. Becker (EPP, Austria) also emphasised the importance of innovation in the health sector and above all, the necessity of encouraging people’s independence and responsibility.

Today, the European Innovation Partnership (EIP) for Active and Healthy Ageing (AHA) is an example of what should still be taken into account over and above the aspects highlighted. However, the initial lessons from the European Innovation Partnerships (EIP) must be taken into account in order to identify where and how to improve the implementation of partnering. The event concluded by highlighting that, cooperations for developing a partnering approach in R&I at European and national level have so far yielded positive results but efforts are necessary for future success.

NEWS: Health First Europe attends “Diabesity: a World-Wide Challenge”

9 February 2012 – Health First Europe attended the European Commission and Danish Presidency event “Diabesity: a World-Wide Challenge” which focused on understanding the current information available on the prevalence of diabetes and potential solutions to combat the trends for increasing prevalence.  The conference brought together the European Parliament, the Danish Presidency, and the European Commission, but also various global organisations working on diabetes prevention and treatment in conjunction with scientists and medical doctors with extensive knowledge and expertise in chronic and non-communicable diseases.  The participants agreed that diabetes is indeed a world-wide epidemic and presented various ideas and projects which can help all health stakeholders to tackle this devastating disease.

Dr. Ruxandra Draghia-Akli, Director for Health, DG Research and Innovation at the European Commission, introduced the morning session which was focused on taking a global approach to the challenges of diabetes.  Addressing the importance of acting now, MEP Christel Schaldemose (S&D, Denmark) called for the development of a global strategy in addition to national action plans for diabetes to coordinate and target evidence-based activities for the prevention and treatment of diabetes.  The European Union does not yet have a strategy to tackle diabetes though such strategies exist for other diseases (i.e. cancer). Alongside Ms. Schaldemose, the Deputy Director General at the National Board of Health in Denmark, Dorte Hansen-Thrige, focused on the many approaches used in Denmark to deal with chronic diseases and explained that Denmark is concentrated on creating systems focused on prevention and promotion rather than cure, and ensuring “a patient-oriented focus in all interventions” for chronic diseases.  The Danish Presidency is very keen to bring generic treatment for chronic diseases to the forefront of the EU agenda during its presidency.

Interesting data was also presented about the migration of populations and the links between genetics to pre-dispositions to diabetes by Professor Paul Zimmet, Director of International Research, Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute.  Prof. Zimmet referred to diabetes as “potentially the greatest epidemic in the history of world” and also declared that “By 2020, diabesity (diabetes and obesity) is set to bankrupt the economies of many nations unless we take urgent action.”  Susan B. Shurin, Acting Director of National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, agreed with the shocking statistics provided by Prof. Zimmet and further highlighted the importance of factors beyond health that affect the prevalence of diabetes.  She suggested that the, “problems are in the health sector, but the solutions are not” offering that prevention of diabetes needs to take account of transportation, housing, education, agriculture, urban planning and local ownership.

Understanding why diabetes prevalence is higher amongst certain populations and how to prevent diabetes occurring in all populations presents enormous research challenges world-wide.  Experts presented many of the ongoing projects and studies which aim to better understand many of the issues encompassed within diabetes challenges. In particular, Dr. Griffin Rodgers, Director, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), presented some of the studies his organisation is focused on particularly lifestyle interventions such as research on the cost-effectiveness of lifestyle interventions for adults with pre-diabetes, lifestyle interventions in overweight and obese pregnant women and environmental determinants of diabetes in the young.  Though there is much research being done in the field of diabetes, panelists were very clear that there is much more to be done in terms of research to inspire real policy solutions for combating diabetes, specifically Type 2 which is a consequence of inactivity and poor nutrition.

The significance of the diabetes burden and the need for global cooperation and strategy targeting prevention of diabetes was unequivocal.  Participants were very clear that diabetes clearly is a world-wide problem with solutions that must also target the world-wide symptoms of increased diabetes prevalence.

NEWS: The Danish Presidency’s health priorities

On 6 January 2012, Denmark began its Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the first half of 2012. It is the seventh time Denmark holds the EU Presidency since joining the European Community in 1973 and Denmark has assumed the Presidency at a time when the EU is facing its perhaps greatest challenges ever.

Denmark is part of the trio presidencies – together with Poland and Cyprus – with the three presidencies working together to ensure a high degree of coordination and consistency. The three Member States agree on a common trio program for the 18 month period from the 1st of July 2011 to the 31st of December 2012 and Denmark will hold the Presidency until 1 July 2012 when the Cypriots will take over.

The main task for the Danish Presidency will be to bring together and strengthen the EU through concrete results that will bring the EU forward and prove the value and necessity of European cooperation to citizens of Europe through four fundamental priorities:  a more responsible, dynamic, green and safe Europe.

Concerning the Danish health priorities, the presidency will focus increased attention to protecting people from health threats and diseases, promoting healthy lifestyles and helping national authorities in the EU cooperate on health issues (such as eHealth and HTA). Denmark has made innovation in health a key priority and intendes to ensure this aspect is reflected all of its health priorities.

Denmark will be responsible for overseeing various EU dossiers such as Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR), the Health for Growth Programme (2014-2020), the Transparency Directive and the Health Treats Package will represent a big part of Denmark’s working programme. As regards the issue of AMR, Denmark will aim to adopt Council Conclusions in June 2012 on death prevention due to AMR.

Amendments to the Tobacco Directive, the review of the Medical Devices Directive and the management of chronic diseases will be also on the 2012 Danish Agenda subject to the timing of proposals by the European Commission.

NEWS: Reducing the burden of diabetes in Europe: London School of Economics and Policy Recommendations

On 25 January, Health First Europe attended the launch of the London School of Economic Policy Recommendations for Reducing the Burden of Diabetes in Europe.  The event was hosted by MEP Christel Schaldemose (S&D, Denmark) along with the Parliament Magazine and Novo Nordisk and aimed to highlight the significant burden diabetes places on patients, carers and health systems throughout Europe in order to initiate concrete coordination and support amongst Member States to tackle diabetes.

The Danish Minister for European Affairs, Mr. Nicolai Wanmen, began the event by declaring the priorities of the Danish presidency in health which will focus on chronic diseases and healthcare innovation.  He expressed that the Presidency goals are prevention (addressing the underlying causes of disease) and patient empowerment (increasing patient self-management capability) in order to combat the economic and demographic challenges the Europe currently faces.  The Danish Presidency refers to its health programme as “Smart health, better lives” which it believes can address many of the complications European health systems have.

The economic impact of diabetes is clearly significant as shown by the study authored by London School of Economics Professor Panos Kanavos.  The study looked to identify and compare 5 EU Member States’ evidence on the burden, cost and management of diabetes and then offer policy recommendations based on the information gathered.  Mr. Kanavos explained in detail how the differences in monitoring prevalence and delivering diabetes care make it difficult to fully grasp the incidence and impact of diabetes.  However, the research showed that key cost drivers for health systems – both direct and indirect costs (such as social benefits, early retirement, absenteeism, etc.) – are the complications associated with the disease.  Monitoring and improving diabetes care at the national level through data-driven diabetes plans is essential.  At EU level, Mr. Kanavos argued for “coordination and support of Member States” particularly through a European Diabetes Observatory.

Further underlining the importance of acting in this disease area, Mr. Martin Soeters, Senior Vice President, Novo Nordisk presented stark statistics about diabetes including the fact that it is estimated that 6 million people in the EU are currently undiagnosed.  He suggested that almost €200 billion is spent on diabetes annually in the EU (both directly and indirectly), 75% of which goes directly towards treating complications.  These numbers make prevention and early treatment even more important as was expressed by Professor Leszek Czupryniak, the Director of International Postgraduate Education at the European Association for diabetes studies.  Mr. Czupryniak explained the importance of early intervention in the treatment of diabetes for the quality of life of the patient and the decrease in cost for the health system.  However, such early intervention assumes more initial upfront costs for payers.

Overall, the event showed the enormous impact diabetes is having on European patients and health systems but also offered policy solutions for lessening the future impact of the disease.  Participants were clear that prevention needs to be the focus of both Member States and EU policymakers to reduce the burden of diabetes.

NEWS: Health First Europe attends Health Technology Assessment: improving patient care and value for money?

On 29 November, Health First Europe attended the lunch debate on “Health Technology Assessment: improving patient care and value for money?” at the Residence Palace in Brussels. The event was organised by European Voice and supported by companies such as Eucomed and Novartis. The debate aimed to understand how and why Health Technology Assessment (HTA) processes and governance has to be improved through increased stakeholder cooperation and involvement in the process itself. The event brought together a large panel of speakers from the European Parliament, the European Commission and others stakeholders involved in HTA issues to give a concrete overview for pan-European cooperation on HTA in the medical sector.

Anders-Lamark Tysse, Policy Officer for Healthcare Systems at the European Commission’s Directorate General Consumers and Health, expressed that HTA remains a key issue in European healthcare systems for one main reason: HTA provides more clarity and better understanding on patient safety through the implementation of non-regulatory and regulatory requirements (according to an evidence based approach) for medical technology devices.

There are 27 HTA processes and governance across Europe and this represents a considerable challenge for all stakeholders. According to Joana Gabriele, Executive Director of the Spanish Patients Forum, the impact of HTA can be faced only if stakeholders (e.g. policy-makers, companies and patients) are adequately involved in the process.

MEP Antonyia Parvanova (ALDE, Bulgaria) continued the debate by insisting on the fact that HTA must consider e-health, the current financial crisis (including budget reductions) as well as an ageing population issues. As regards the different demands in the healthcare system, HTA follows a dual-line perspective:  quality of care for patients and a better use of money by the Member States. Ms. Parvanova suggested that EU Member States are faced with considerable challenges for healthcare systems and solutions, including volunteering networks and collaboration partnerships, have to be created by the Member States with the support of the European Union (such as through the EUnetHTA Network). As reminder, MEP Parvanova concluded that the European Parliament is ready to prepare a question or a resolution before an eventual proposal from the European Commission in this field.

Regarding both Joint Action 1 and 2 on HTA and the Cross-Border Healthcare Directive, Finn Børlum Kristensen (President of EUnetHTA), explained the necessity of an European collaboration on HTA processes and governance.  He expressed that, “As technologies become more “international” (medicines, medical devices) and patients become more European, there should be a decrease in duplication of HTA Assessments.”, However, Mr. Kristensen also pointed out that there is still a problem regarding  inconsistency between different national HTAs. In addition, the EUnetHTA Conference in Gdansk (Poland) on 8-9 December 2011 will look to bring together an important stakeholders panel in order to draw up a strategy discussion around the upcoming Joint Action on HTA.

Overall, the event highlighted the potential of HTA in the EU health sector emphasising the importance of quality of care for patients and cost-effectiveness for public authorities in the ongoing debates. All participants agreed that the support of Member states and increased involvement of stakeholders in HTA is vital in order for assessments to reflect the value of medical solutions in the health sector at both local and EU levels.

NEWS: Health First Europe attends the European Health Literacy Conference

On 22 and 23 November, Health First Europe attended the European Health Literacy Conference organised by Maastricht University at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. Under the European Health Literacy Project 2009-2012, this event presented the first European Health Literacy Survey describing the state of play of health literacy across Europe. The survey highlights the problems and vulnerable groups in health literacy, gaps between Member States and finally the potential solutions and policy recommendations to improve health literacy. Co-hosted by MEPs Antonyia Parvanova (ALDE, Bulgaria), Christofer Fjellner (EPP, Sweden) and Karin Kadenbach (S&D, Austria), the conference brought together a panel of high-level speakers including representatives from the European Commission, the European Parliament, academia, private sector, health professional and patient organisations.

MEP Fejllner opened the event by addressing health literacy to citizens and patients, emphasising the need to put patient empowerment at the centre of the welfare system, in particular health education and access to health data.

Following Mr. Fejllner, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy John Dalli welcomed the results of the survey which revealed that health literacy is a key condition for making informed decisions by patients in the healthcare system. As 50% of Europeans have used the Internet to find health information, Mr. Dalli suggested the changing landscape of healthcare enables an increasing lack of relevance and quality of online health data. As regards this alarming situation, the European Commission proposed to launch an Internet Wikipedia tool called ‘Health in Europe’ to ensure easy access of relevant health information for anyone. He declared that such a system represents the potential innovation has to offer for health literacy. However, Mr. Dalli remarked that empowering citizens through technology must be built upon the transparency and liability of the healthcare system. In addition, the democratisation of knowledge is a political challenge and commitments have to find agreement at the European Commission.

According to Zoran Stancic, Deputy Director-General of DG Information and Society, the Digital Agenda is one part of the answer. One of the seven pillars, ‘e-skills’ would work on assisting patients to better handle health data from Internet. The possibility of using social media is also a part of the answer because new technologies empower citizens in e-Health and telemedicine related issues.

MEP Antonyia Parvanova declared that utilising a different approach is a key point to overcoming the challenge of health literacy.  She expressed that patients should be considered more like partners and co-producers and not only as consumers in society. From this perspective, the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing brings more education and new technology, particularly for the elderly, to prepare the patient to make a knowledgeable decision for successful treatment.

According to the health literacy survey, most patients have a low or insufficient level of health literacy and this phenomenon represents a problem for European Member States (on different national levels) and a cost for the healthcare system. Therefore, conference participants agreed that Europe now needs a common consciousness among citizens and political involvement at the EU level to put patient’s knowledge of health at the center of the health sector. With efforts from all parties (e.g. patients and health providers), health literacy could play a fundamental role within European health policy.

NEWS: Patient Safety and biological medicines: what matters?

On 8 November, Health First Europe attended the lunch debate in the European Parliament entitled “Patient Safety and biological medicines: what matters?” The event was organised by the Parliament Magazine and Novo Nordisk, in association with EuropaBio, and discussed the role of the bio-pharmaceutical industry in the patient safety debate.  Hosted by MEP Marisa Matias (EFA/Greens, Portugal), the event brought together the European Commission, the European Parliament, patients and industry to facilitate a dialogue alongside legislative dossiers such as the pharmacovigilance package, falsified medicines and information to patients.

MEP Matias opened the lunch debate by outlining some of her priorities with regards to patient safety in terms of medicines.  Having been extensively involved in Parliamentary discussions of pharmaceuticals in the EU, Ms. Matias highlighted the need for a direct dialogue with patients and healthcare professionals in order to develop legislation which is holistic in nature and can protect patients.

Mr. Stéphan Hogan, Head of Unit for Horizontal Issues at the European Commission’s Directorate General Research, discussed some of the ongoing projects the European Commission has been involved with to develop a knowledge base on patient and drug safety.  He asserted that the European Commission has supported extensive research in the areas of efficacy and safety of medicines for patients in addition to the education and training of professionals and patients through the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI).  He also asserted that for 2012, the European Commission is looking to support research on new methodologies for health technology assessment (HTA) under the Framework 7 Programme.

Additionally, Anne-Marie Felton of the Federation of European Nurses for Diabetes (FEND), spoke to the patient experience with regards to medicines highlighting particular areas for which the EU can do more to assist and protect the safety of patients.  In particular, she expressed that the reliability of treatments is critical stating that policymakers “Need to ensure commonality across the whole of the EU in terms of the accuracy and readability of information to patients.”  She further declared that information to patients should never be “a marketing tool.”

The event also saw a presentation by Inger Mollerup, Vice-President of Novo Nordisk, regarding the development of bio-pharmaceuticals and the complicated process through which medicines are created.  Ms. Mollerup drew attention to the fact that bio-medicines involve living organisms and that no batch of bio-medicines is identical – even though the process for generation may be the similar.  This means that patient safety must be protected through reliable systems of traceability and through clearly identified products.

Overall, the event highlighted the importance of patient safety in the ongoing debates around pharmaceuticals and the need for cooperation between stakeholders to find legislative solutions where the priority is protecting the patient.

NEWS: Health First Europe attends EDMA IVD Forum 2011

On 19 October 2011, Health First Europe attended the annual European Diagnostics Manufacturers Association (EDMA) In-Vitro Diagnostics (IVD) Forum which brought together academics, health experts, policymakers and industry to discuss issues such as Health Technology Assessment and the Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing.  The Forum looked to discuss in detail the current contribution of the IVD industry to the health sector and the potential for the industry to further engage on European issues impacting health.

The first sessions of the day focused on Health Technology Assessment (HTA) with particular discussion on ensuring patient access to medical innovations in a timely manner.  Jerome Boehm, Policy Coordinator and Team Leader in DG SANCO’s Health Systems Unit, described the issues the European Commission is currently facing in terms of developing a permanent, collaborative HTA network as prescribed by the Patients’ Rights in Cross-border Healthcare Directive. He explained that, “Cooperation is needed among actors at EU level and the Commission is promoting early dialogue between actors to facilitate the process.”

Additionally, Jennifer Cain, Chair of the EDMA HTA Task Force and External Affairs Director, LifeScan EMEA at Johnson and Johnson, further discussed the need for HTA decisions to have the adequate involvement of healthcare professionals, patients, policymakers and industry so that HTA is a gateway to innovation.  She expressed the uniqueness of the IVD industry in terms of HTA due to the fact that IVDs lead to decisions about treatment, not the treatment itself.  She highlighted that, “60-80% of the decisions taken about treatment for patients are affected by IVDs.”

Following on the discussions of HTA, the final sessions of the day examined the Pilot Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing (AHAIP) launched by the European Commission in 2010 and ongoing actions and research around this initiative.  The first speaker, Dr. Roberto Bertollini of the World Health Organisation (WHO) explained what the WHO is doing to facilitate active and healthy ageing particularly in terms of supportive environments for older individuals, strengthening health systems and addressing gaps in evidence and research.  Professor Carol Jagger, from the Institute for Ageing and Health at Newcastle University, then illustrated her research on healthy ageing with regards to the aged 85+ segment of the population.  She declared that the “apocalyptic demography” paradigm (or the pessimistic view of the demographic changes to society) needs to be combated through the re-oganisation of health systems by putting the patient at the centre of the system.  She asserted that multi-morbidity equates to serious costs in healthcare since the elderly population averages 4-5 chronic conditions – typically treated in different places by a variety of specialists without channels for communication.

Furthermore, Maria Iglesia-Gomez, Head of Unit for Strategy and International at DG SANCO, spoke in great detail about the ongoing work of the AHAIP and how the pilot partnership is using a new approach to working with all stakeholders to produce tangible outcomes for ageing patients. She acknowledged that because the AHAIP is a pilot, “we do not have all the answers,” but suggested that bringing together patient groups, professionals, industry and experts to identify bottlenecks and produce concrete solutions will go a long way towards achieving the goal of two additional healthy living years by 2020.  She called for stakeholders to commit to the partnership which is scheduled to receive formal political endorsement from the Council and the European Parliament in the first half of 2012.

Overall, the EDMA IVD Forum 2011 produced a very interesting dialogue on two important issues for the European health community and showcased the IVD industry’s continuing contribution to the healthy and active living of patients of all ages.

NEWS: Health First Europe attends the Annual Fit for Work Europe Conference

Health First Europe attended the 3rd Annual Fit for Work Europe Conference, held on 18 October in a two-session event. The first session, at the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, focused on the importance of making musculoskeletal diseases (MSDs) a public health and work priority at EU and at national level by proposing concrete, practical steps and solutions for patients to return back to work as soon as possible. Afterwards, the second session at the European Parliament was opened by the Ambassador of Fit for Work Global, Lech Wałęsa, former president of Poland (1990-1995), chaired by MEP Antonyia Parvanova (Bulgaria, ALDE) and co-hosted by MEP Edite Estrela (Portugal, S&D), Stephen Hughes (UK, S&D) and Jean Lambert (UK, Greens) also contributed to the political debates addressing MSDs and work capacity in EU health and employment policies.

In Europe, MSDs are a major cause of incapacity in the working-age population, with over 40 million EU workers suffering from MSDs. The Co-President of Fit for Work, Prof. Stephen Bevan, presented the need for EU and national policy-makers to emphasise MSDs as a global issue in order to coordinate more regulations for health and employment policies. According to Professor Bevan, work is good for health and should be promoted by clinicians as a priority outcome for patients. The role of policymakers is to prioritise initiatives for facilitating the exchange of good practices and better evidence from experts, policy-makers, patients, general practitioners etc. with a common focus on returning to work. This support would help to coordinate action between stakeholders to promote work throughout healthcare system regulation.

During the second session, MEP Antonyia Parvanova insisted that MSDs represent a health challenge and also an economic issue that Europe needs to tackle. Regarding European initiatives such as Europe 2020, the Employment Strategy and the European Innovation Partnership on Healthy and Active Ageing –all which support this issue – policymakers must continue to highlight MSDs (and chronic diseases as well) as a key priority for the EU political agenda. As Chair of the European Parliament Interest Group on Musculoskeletal Diseases, MEP Estrela called on the European Parliament to consider MSDs as an important cause of disability and inactivity in Europe, note the importance of the Workability on MSDs, prevent chronic mental diseases by promoting early detection, treatment and monitoring, create new healthcare delivery models and improve clinical management aims to keep people active as long as possible

To keep European citizens healthy, Isabel de la Mata, from the European Commission, Principal Adviser – Public health and risk assessment, DG SANCO, insisted on the need for all stakeholders to make a convincing case for investing in health as an engine of future growth, relating the health sector to employment, research and education policies. The European Commission’s redesigned European Health Programme intends to bring a clear EU added value in the public health sector at large. Four objectives have been described: promoting health and preventing disorders; ensuring innovative efficient and sustainable health systems; enabling patients more access to better and safer health care systems; and protecting citizens from cross-border health threats.

Fit for Work Europe made clear it has a role to play on the EU scene regarding increasing the awareness of MSDs and helping people suffering from MSDs in their daily working lives. Fit for Work declared that health promoting activities at the workplace must be perceived as an innovation model, fostering innovation management for a healthier Europe. MSDs represent a societal challenge and multi-sectoral issue that has to be driven forward in order to help EU Member States and the European Commission implement existing mechanisms from the national level to the EU level.

NEWS: Health First Europe attends the Eucomed MedTech Forum 2011

From 12-14 October, Health First Europe attended the Eucomed MedTech Forum 2011 which focused on “Driving Innovation in European Healthcare.” The event brought together leaders from the medical technology industry in addition to high level participants from the European Commission, Member States and patient groups, to discuss how the industry can contribute to tackling the challenges faced by an ageing population, a shortage of healthcare professionals and the increasing constraints on healthcare budgets.

One of the main themes of the three day conference was the need for significant changes to occur in order to make current health systems more sustainable.  In that vein, the opening day of the event saw the publication of an Economist Report on “Future Proofing Western Europe’s Healthcare” where Paul Kiestra, Contributing Editor, Economist Intelligence Unit, discussed what five European countries have been doing in order to achieve this sustainability.  He concluded that while many reforms have shown benefits, the need to incorporate more extensive reforms remains in all five countries.  However, the intense attachment of citizens to the current system in every state is still a huge barrier to overcome in healthcare reform.

Following on the evidence presented by the Economist in its report, Eucomed Chairman Guy Lebeau and Eucomed C.E.O. John Wilkinson, together presented the medtech industry’s plan for the next five years entitled “Contract for a Healthy Future.” The plan, which focuses on five particular ambitions for the industry, discusses the need for industry to collaborate more with other health stakeholders and to better demonstrate the value of medical technology not just for policymakers and regulators, but for patients and healthcare professionals.

One of the highlights of the first day of the event included the participation of European Health and Consumer Protection Commission John Dalli who spoke on innovating in healthcare.  Commissioner Dalli emphasised the need for health to be seen as an investment – for employment, for research and innovation and for the healthy living of European citizens.  He discussed the Innovation Partnership and Active and Healthy Ageing (AHAIP) which he hopes will help drive smart investment and smart innovation in health.  He declared that for him, the focus of the AHAIP is to keep more and more elderly people in their homes, rather than in institutions. Mr. Dalli, however, clearly stated that, “My main and ultimate goal is to have equitable access to high quality healthcare services for European citizens.”

The last session of the first day saw contributions from industry, insurance, government and patients in a panel discussion regarding sustaining healthcare systems in Europe.  Much of the discussion focused on modifying current business models. However, Sophie Peresson, Regional Manager, International Diabetes Federation (IDF), clearly highlighted the need for industry to take account of end users needs when developing products so that technology reaches (and can be used by) the people it is developed for.

The second day of the conference focused on eHealth and innovation with particularly interesting presentations from the Director of the European Commission’s Information Society Unit (DG INFSO), Robert Madelin and a video from Vice President of the European Commission and Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes. Mr. Madelin encouraged industry to think about how medical technology can be used for individuals to drive their own improvement in health.  He expressed that, “Only 1 in 5 citizens in the OECD/BRIC countries has actively used something digital to manage their health. However, 75% of the people who have tried a technology to manage their health, believed that it significantly helped them.” Mr. Madelin was very clear that industry needs to continue to think about innovative ways to involve patients in managing their own care through personal medical devices.  In the same vein, Commissioner Kroes stated in her video that, “We must ensure technological solutions are developed and are then used.”  She also highlighted the need to better understand the needs of end users and to use the AHAIP to unlock Europe’s potential in this area.

Following the panel on innovation and the impact of the medtech industry, eHealth became the focus of discussions with contributions from the French Ministry of Health, the Danish Univeriteshospital og Svendborg Sygehus, Belgian mutialities, Microsoft, Continua and McKinsey.  The topic of eHealth was of great importance as governments, hospitals and industry highlighted the challenges they face with regards to the implementation of eHealth and making it a reality for patients. Anne-Kirstine Dyrvig explained that “Introducing telemedicine means introducing a new way of working” and suggested to delegates that they prepare for this in the implementation of eHealth services.  She also expressed the considerable need to involve healthcare professionals in the process.

The final session of the event looked at getting regulation and innovation right in Europe and produced a very interesting debate regarding the issue of patient safety in the determining a regulatory framework for medical devices.  The panelists included Director of Health and Consumer Affairs in the European Commission (DG SANCO) Jacqueline Minor, and Nicola Bedlington, the Director of the European Patients Forum (EPF).  Ms. Minor reiterated that regulation in medical technology “must not lose sight of patient safety” and must ensure “a balance between innovation and patient safety.”  As the representative of patient groups, Ms. Bedlington agreed and suggested that the recast of the Medical Devices Directive should be very considerate of this particular point.

Overall, the event established the new approach of the medical technology industry to work more closely with other health stakeholders to meet the challenges of the health sector today.  Through innovation and greater collaboration, industry believes that the demands and needs of patients can be met.

NEWS: Health First Europe attends EP Interest Group on Carers

Health First Europe attended the 2nd meeting of the European Parliament Interest Group on Carers in the Active and Healthy Ageing Partnership, held on 11 October at the Parliament. Chaired by MEP Marian Harkin (ALDE, IE) and with the participation of Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission and Commissioner of the Digital Agenda, this interest group debated their particular interest regarding challenges and responsibilities in the ongoing Pilot European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing, as well as to explain why their role in this area is crucial.

Commissioner Neelie Kroes explained that the European Digital Agenda, including the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing (AHAIP), concerns all European citizens and elder population, especially in terms of quality of life and dignity. Indeed, Carers, as one of the first interfaces with care recipients when patients are suffering from chronic illness or disabilities or ageing peoples, play a key role in this global strategy. The European Commission insisted on the necessity to communicate effectively with all stakeholders and establish strategic aims like innovate inhuman capital by using new technologies and to improve productivity for an economic inclusion. From a pragmatic point of view, important financial support for Carers does represent a good investment even in mid-term in order to create sustainable financial systems and new business models in care services for caregivers and care receivers as well.

The President of Eurocarers, Robert Anderson, highlighted how Carers can actively impact the AHAIP and why having a voice in this process would create a win-win situation in this context. In the perspective of the AHAIP, Carers’ daily support represent many opportunities for local implementation:  intervening in both informal and formal-care provisions, helping elder peoples achieve and maintain an active and healthy life, improving the sustainability of care services, making Carers’ organizations more user-friendly, and integrating users in ICT development.

The European Parliament Interest Group on Carers in Active and Healthy Ageing Partnership helps to establish a real dialogue between policy-makers, stakeholders and civil society at national and EU levels. Afterwards, Carers’ organizations need to pursue their efforts in this area and wait for November when the Strategic Implementation Plan of the AHAIP, after a long process of commitments, will propose final recommendations.

Marian Harkin’s website:

NEWS: Health First Europe attends EFAPH lunch debate on haemochromotosis

On 20 September, Health First Europe attended a debate in the European Parliament on the issue of haemochromotosis – a genetic disease causing an overload of iron in the blood. HFE member organisation, The European Federation of Associations of Patients with Haemochromotosis (EFAPH), organised the event in order to raise awareness about this rare disease and inform policymakers of what steps can be taken to inform and protect citizens from this often unknown and overlooked genetic disease.

Introducing the issue and the need for action in this disease area, MEP Jo Leinen (ALDE, Germany) suggested that the sharing of best practices between Member States, particularly in terms of genetic databases, would help to inform patients and prevent the complications associated with haemochromotosis which can include liver cancer, diabetes and cardiac failure.  Additionally, MEP Antonyia Parvanova (Bulgaria, ALDE), highlighted the importance of considering rare diseases at the EU level due to the enormous impact diseases such as haemochromotosis can have on the cost of health systems throughout Europe.  As simple genetic testing of adults can determine who has the disease, complications associated with the overload of iron in the blood can be prevented with simple treatment (i.e. phlebotomy).

Though haemochromotosis is not a well-known disease, it affects nearly 1 in 300 Europeans and currently 2 million people suffer from it, especially in Ireland where Celtics are more susceptible to the genetic mutation which causes harmochromotosis.  Overcoming the lack of awareness about the disease is extremely difficult as diagnoses can sometimes occur almost 10 years after the first onset of symptoms.  During the time between the onset of symptoms and diagnosis, patients can develop severe complications as the overload of iron in organs causes irreversible damage and sometimes death.  EFAPH hopes that continued debates such as these will make both professionals and patients more aware of the symptoms which can be signs of haemochromotosis such as chronic fatigue, arthritis and hyper-pigmentation.

Overall, the event highlighted the need for the EU institutions to consider rare, genetic diseases as an important health issue.  If known and tested for amongst adults, the reduction in severe complications for sufferers could have a major affect not only on patients, but particularly on the costs to health systems.

NEWS: MEP Christofer Fjellner and Health First Europe launch Task Force on Patient Safety

7 September 2011 – Health First Europe together with Task Force Patron MEP Christofer Fjellner (EPP, Sweden), today launched the Task Force on Patient Safety to demand more stringent recommendations for Member States with regards to the safety of patients. As part of the review of the Council Recommendations on patient safety, including the prevention and control of healthcare associated infections, the Task Force will utilise its broad participation of members – in particular patients, healthcare professionals, hospitals and industry – to formulate further recommendations for Member States following on the European Commission’s review.

As the Chair of the Task Force, Health First Europe (HFE) Honorary President John Bowis stated the aim of the Task Force is to “enshrine patient safety throughout the Member States and set specific, quantitative targets for the reduction of Healthcare Associated Infections (HAIs).”  He expressed that “Specific targets must be set for the reduction of HAIs to encourage Member States to take every precaution to protect the safety of citizens when they enter a healthcare setting – whether that be in hospital or home care.”

The European Centre for Disease and Prevention Control (ECDC) estimates that HAIs occur in one hospitalized patient in 20 which equates to almost 4.1 million patients per year who acquire an infection while in hospital.  HAIs also account for approximately 37,000 deaths per year in the European Union.[1]

Patron of the HFE Task Force, and HFE MEP Supporter, MEP Chrisofer Fjellner discussed the need for further action in this realm particularly as the Member States reply to the European Commission questionnaire on the implementation of the recommendations since 2009.  He declared, “There are many aspects to patient safety. Patients must be protected from adverse events while receiving care. Equally important, continued innovation in medicines and healthcare practices must be ensured. Also, to feel safe, patients must be given good and reliable information to be able to determine risks and make informed choices about their own health.”

The Health First Europe Task Force will publish its demands during an event in the European Parliament alongside the ongoing review of the implementation of the 2009 Council Recommendations in winter 2011/2012.

Participants in the HFE Task Force on patient safety include: International Association of Patients Organisations (IAPO); European Health Telematics Association (EHTEL); European Medical Association (EMA); European Union of Private Hospitals (UEHP); International Diabetes Federation (IDF); European Federation of Public Service Employees Union (Eurofedop); Medical Technology Group and Eucomed.

NEWS: European Citizen Award 2011 – goes to Maltese citizen Chris Delicata from the International Diabetes Federation Europe

This year the European Citizens prize is awarded to Chris Delicata, President and Regional Chair of the International Diabetes Federation Europe Region (IDF Europe) for his outstanding contribution to the fight against diabetes.  The award ceremony took place at Europe House in Valletta on Wednesday, presided over by Maltese Member of the European Parliament, Simon Busuttil. The event was attended, amongst others, by Dr Joe Cassar, Minister of Health, Elderly and Community Care in Malta, Maltese Members of Parliament, and Government Officials.

Mr Delicata, Senior Manager at GasanMamo Insurance Limited, a leading insurance company based in Malta, has dedicated an overwhelming amount of time to fighting diabetes by actively contributing to Maltese and European projects. He works with the aim of helping raise awareness of the disease and enhance the quality of lives of people who live with diabetes. Mr. Delicata was surprised and deeply honored to receive the prestigious award. His emotive acceptance speech described the impact that diabetes had had on him and his family. Mr Delicata first learnt about diabetes when his eldest son Jack was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes twelve years ago,

“I did not want Diabetes to takes over my life – on the contrary I wanted to do something tangible for Diabetes. I felt that if I wanted something to be done, then I must offer my contribution… I feel proud that I have managed to turn one of the worst episodes in my life to a positive one for me and my family.” – Mr Delicata

Dr Busuttil was there to congratulate Mr. Delicata and reiterated that this award reflects the hard work, integration and achievements of the Maltese people since joining the European Union in 2004.

“This award recognizes the notable contribution of Chris Delicata in the fight against Diabetes at the EU level. His work has helped bring Europeans together to work harder and more effectively against Diabetes. In this way he has shown himself to be a true, exemplary European citizen.” – Dr Busuttil

Dr Busuttil also paid tribute to the struggle of diabetes in Malta and called for greater government involvement to help combat this disease. Mr. Delicata also met with His Excellency President Dr. George Abela at San Anton Palace and the Honourable Prime Minister Dr. Lawrence Gonzi at Auberge de Castille, who thanked him on behalf of the Maltese people.

The award ceremony also included a key note speech from Sir Michael Hirst, President-Elect of the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) who echoed the importance of a national diabetes plan.

“The International Diabetes Federation is absolutely delighted that Chris Delicata has been given the European Citizen’s Award for his voluntary work on diabetes.  Chris is a most deserving winner of this prestigious award. His hard work in Malta and throughout Europe as President of IDF Europe has rightly been recognised, and is inspirational to all people whose children develop type 1 diabetes.  It is a signal honour also for IDF Europe.” – Sir Michael Hirst

Background note

Since 2009, the European Parliament has awarded the Civi Europaeo Praemium – European Citizens’ Prize on a yearly basis to reward outstanding contributions to European public life.

On 17 March 2011, the Chancellery of the European Parliament, chaired by President Jerzy Buzek, drew up a list of European Citizens’ Prize winners nominated from across the European Union. The list, which includes Mr Delicata, is made up of individuals and organizations including scientists, artists, historians, campaigners, academics, student and voluntary organizations and sports associations.

Prizes are awarded to nominees at public award ceremonies held near the recipients’ respective places of residence, and are presented by the President of the European Parliament, one of the Vice-Presidents or a representative of the European Parliament designated by the President.

The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) is a not-for-profit umbrella organization of over 200 diabetes associations worldwide. We see ourselves as the ‘global voice of diabetes’ and an influential advocate for people directly and indirectly affected by diabetes. IDF has seven regional offices which are the interface between our national member associations and global headquarters in Brussels and are critical for the delivery of our advocacy and programmes.

IDF Europe is one of these regional offices and represents 62 member associations in 45 countries in Europe. These member associations are either organizations representing patients or health care professionals or a combination of both. The activities of IDF Europe aim to influence policy, increase public awareness and encourage health improvement, promote the exchange of high-quality information about diabetes, and provide education for people with diabetes and their healthcare providers.

For more information please contact Jessie Kennelly Tel: +32 2 639 2092.

NEWS: Polish Presidency priorities for health – focus on children’s healthcare

On 1 July 2011, Poland will assume the European Council Presidency of the EU with the aim to foster faster economic growth in the EU and strengthen the European political community. To achieve these objectives, the Polish Presidency will focus on three fundamental priorities: European integration as the source of growth, Secure Europe and Europe benefiting from openness.

In terms of its’ priorities for health, the Polish presidency will focus increased attention to children’s healthcare, particularly in the areas of children’s non-communicable diseases and childhood communication problems regarding hearing, sight and speech.  Poland will also aim to tackle issues of brain degenerative diseases and health gaps between EU countries.  Additionally, the Polish Presidency intends to be quite active with regards to ongoing EU initiatives, notably the Information to Patients dossier and the Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing.

With the conclusion of the Hungarian Presidency, Poland will also begin a new trio of presidencies to be followed by Denmark and Cyprus.  The trio of presidencies will together be focusing on innovation, ageing, and diseases without borders, as part of their health priorities for the next 18 months.