NEWS: Health First Europe warns of the impact of depression on Europe’s ability to attain the Lisbon goals – 1st European Day of Depression signals depression crisis in Europe

Health First Europe, an alliance of patient groups, healthcare wofrkers, academics, experts and the medical technology industry, urges governments to put more emphasis on fighting depression. Commenting at the occasion of the first ever European Day of Depression, Mrs Imelda Read, Honorary Chairperson of Health First Europe, said, “Europe is facing a real crisis, if governments do not start providing more and better information, diagnosis and testing and access to treatment or therapy of depression”.

The first European Day of Depression is being organised tomorrow in Namur, Belgium, under the patronage from Mr Rudy Demotte, Belgian Minister for Health and Social Affairs. Health First Europe fully supports this timely initiative and draws attention to the growing threat from depression on public health in Europe.

According to World Health Organization estimates, by 2020 major depression will be one of the most common causes of disability in established market economies, ranked second only to cardio-vascular diseases. 30% of today’s population experience depression at least once in their life and it afflicts persons of all genders, ages, and backgrounds. Still, depression most often occurs to people aged between 20 and 40 years, at a particularly productive time in their life.

Health First Europe warns of the extent to which depression causes a serious disruption in many people’s personal lives and careers and of the potential cost to Europe’s competitiveness. In Germany, depressive disorders account for almost 7% of premature retirements and depression-related work incapacity lasts about two and half times longer than incapacity due to other illnesses. In Finland, mental health disorders, mostly depressive disorders, are the leading cause of disability pensions.

A deepening depression crisis strikes at the heart of European productivity and economic growth, yet a healthy society is crucial for the success of the EU’s Lisbon agenda that seeks to make the EU the world’s most dynamic and competitive economy by 2010. “Health equals wealth”, as Commissioner Byrne summarised it4, and governments need to make a long-term investment in Europe’s future by taking decisive action against depression as a growing threat to public health. HFE’s Honorary Chairperson Read is clear on this point: “Depression is rapidly becoming one of the biggest threats to the way we live and the way we work”.

Depression is a common mental disease caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals that has a debilitating physical and psychological effect on those who suffer from it. Usually associated with loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-esteem, disturbed sleep or appetite and poor concentration, the disability caused by major depression has been found to be equivalent to blindness or paraplegia.

Like any serious medical condition, depression needs to be treated. With the proper combination of medication and psychotherapy, up to 60% of people with depression can recover. Yet, health policies have largely failed to recognise and address the extent of the depression crisis and to provide for adequate treatment.

According to Dr Vincenzo Costigliola, President of the European Medical Association (EMA) and member of Health First Europe, “an estimated 33.4 million people in the European Region suffer from major depression every year, yet research has shown that 47% of people requiring care do not get it – and remain untreated”.

Health First Europe urges governments to take immediate action to remove the barriers preventing effective care, provide necessary resources and training and to fight the social stigma associated with depression.

NEWS: On the eve of the HIV/AIDS conference in Vilnius – Health First Europe demands more action from the EU to protect healthcare workers from sharps’ injuries!

It is estimated that 1 million needlestick injuries are suffered by healthcare workers across the European Union each year. More than 20 dangerous blood-borne pathogens are transmitted by contaminated needles including Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, and of course HIV. These injuries are preventable!

Independent studies show that solutions are available today which can prevent more than 80% of needlestick injuries through a combination of training, safer working practices and the use of medical devices incorporating needlestick protection technology.

The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work has already made a number of key recommendations:

  • Eliminate the use of needles where safety and effective alternatives are available.
  • Implement the use of devices with safety features and evaluate their use to determine which are most effective and acceptable.
  • Modify work practices that pose a needle injury hazard to make them safer. Avoid recapping needles.
  • Train workers in the safe use and disposal of needles in appropriate sharps containers.

A small number of Member States are tackling this issue, but many are not, which indicates to Health First Europe these recommendations are not being implemented, or are not even being considered, by the majority of healthcare providers across the EU.

Registered Nurse, Karen Daley was drawing blood from an elderly patient with mild dementia. She turned to dispose of the butterfly needle into the sharps container, when she felt a stinging pain and realised that she had been struck on her the index finger by another needle had become wedged in the container’s hinged opening.

After taking both the HIV and HCV tests Karen discovered that she had tested positive for both viruses. “I can’t describe to you how drastically one moment – the moment of my needlestick – has changed my life. Since January, I have had to come to terms with the fact that I am infected with not one, but two potentially life-threatening viruses”.

“Stories like Karen’s are all too common”, says Bert Van Caelenberg, Secretary General of Eurofedop, and Health First Europe member. “Action must be taken now to reduce the risks of sharp’s injuries to healthcare workers across the EU”.

On the eve of the European Union’s 2nd Open Europe Conference entitled “Europe and HIV / AIDS: New Challenges, New Opportunities”’, Health First Europe calls on those present to do more to prevent sharps’ injuries and to reduce the number of stories like Karen’s. Any Action Plan emanating from the conference must give due consideration and provide for action for this to this often forgotten category of Europeans at great risk from HIV infection.

On World AIDS’ day, December 1st 2004, Health First Europe will be holding an event in the European Parliament to in an attempt further raise awareness amongst decision makers and the public about the risks’ of sharps’ injuries to healthcare workers and what can be done to tackle this problem.

NEWS: Health First Europe calls for improved strategy to combat heart disease

Over 5 million people across Europe will suffer from cardiovascular disease this year and the ability for patients to gain access to the best of treatments remains mixed across the Member States. On the occasion of World Heart Day (26 September), the Health First Europe alliance of patient groups, health care professionals and medical technology innovators call for an improved strategy to combat the deadly disease. Critical in this fight is an increased availability of patient information, greater emphasis on the opportunities of patient mobility and greater investment in innovative therapies and technologies that help to prevent the disabilities and deaths caused by cardiovascular disease, the number one killer in the European Union.

The large numbers of heart disease sufferers do not look like decreasing as lifestyle habits such as smoking and poor diet contribute to the heart problems in patients across Europe. “Heart disease is not at epidemic proportions and large strides have been made in innovative treatments for patients. But we should not rest on our laurels as more can be done to prevent heart disease as well as insuring new treatments are universally accessible and well known to patients,” said Mel Read, Honorary Chairperson of Health First Europe.

Each year in Europe, more than 600.000 new cases of heart failure are diagnosed, with some 330,000 new cases for the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain alone. Characterised by unacceptably high mortality rates and high rates of hospital admissions, investment in new and innovative technologies is necessary to stay one step ahead of the disease. For instance, patients suffering from potential cardiac arrest, a life threatening condition, are finding new life in therapies such as Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy (CRT). CRT is delivered through a special implanted pulse generator and helps the heart contract at the proper time and in a coordinated fashion again. Studies have shown that CRT greatly contributes to improving the quality of life of the patient; it reduces the risk of mortality but also the number of hospitalization days, and therefore the financial burden on healthcare systems. “It really is astounding how far we have travelled in such as short time” says Professor Felix Unger of the European Medical Institute, and Health First Europe member. “I am myself a cardiac surgeon and performed the first implantation of an artificial heart back in 1986. It is amazing to think that these types of medical technologies have now become so sophisticated that they can in effect administer ‘first aid’ to heart attack victims themselves”. Other life life-saving and life-enhancing therapies include percutaneous coronary interventions (angioplasty with a stent for example).

On World Heart Day 2004, Health First Europe encourages governments to step up efforts to ensure that patients suffering from heart conditions have equitable access to reliable innovative treatments. “EU Health Commissioner David Byrne has called for health to become a central factor in decision-making. His message, health equals wealth, is a policy we broadly support, knowing that for many patients their health is the basis of a productive and fulfilling life. This is certainly true for cardiac health and there is no reason we can not win the fight against this disease, starting today” stated Mel Read, Honorary Chairperson of Health First Europe.

NEWS: Europeans demand healthcare reform! Health coalition calls for Presidency action

Brussels 30 June 2004 – From 1 July the Netherlands will take the helm of the Presidency of the European Union for the next six months and a range of healthcare debates and events are planned. Health First Europe, an alliance representing European patients, healthcare workers, academics, experts and industry, urges the Dutch Presidency to ensure that its key priorities include patient mobility as well as encouraging and simplifying patient access to modern, efficient and innovative medical technology and healthcare.

It is essential that work commenced by the Irish Presidency on this issue is continued and completed and that the conclusions reached at the June Health Ministers Council in Luxembourg are taken into account. At the same time, however, Health First Europe also stresses that any decisions on European healthcare must be based on patient needs and not be led by political or economic agendas. Health is a driver of economic growth, sustainable development and quality of life and as such must be viewed as a priority for any presidency to pursue and ensure that Europe is given the means and resources to provide its citizens with the best possible healthcare available.

That European citizens and patients feel strongly about the future of European healthcare is highlighted by a recent survey* conducted amongst 8,000 Europeans. The study showed that 81% of respondents believe that the quality of healthcare in Europe will stand still or decline if no reforms take place within the next ten years and 84% think that this reform is urgent or necessary. It is clear that this survey carries a strong message for European policymakers – citizens want to see a positive change in their healthcare systems!

Health First Europe believes that a key priority of the incoming presidency must be to focus on encouraging and simplifying patient access to modern, efficient and innovative medical technology and healthcare. “The demographic time bomb ticking away in Europe requires speed in addressing the core problems of access and investment in modern treatment techniques” stated Prof. Dr. Dr.h.c. Felix Unger, President of the European Institute of Medicine, and a member of Health First Europe. A further priority must be to ensure that citizens and patients have access to reliable information on health whilst also stimulating citizen and patient participation in health related decision making.

In debating the future of healthcare in Europe, Health First Europe urges policy makers to also look beyond traditional forms of healthcare. Homecare and self-care, for example, can help to reduce the need for hospitalisation and can contribute to building new and more flexible modes of healthcare delivery. Representing the interests of European doctors within Health First Europe, Dr. Vincenzo Costigliola, President of the European Medical Association (EMA), commented: “The approach to healthcare in Europe must change from one of reactive response to one of active promotion of good health. This implies a break with the traditional structures of healthcare provision to allow the design of new systems, individually tailored to the needs of each patient”.


* Survey presented on 28 June in Brussels by the Stockholm Network which looks at the attitudes of 8,000 Europeans towards the future of healthcare. ‘Impatient for Change – European attitudes to healthcare reform’. For more information on the Stockholm Network, please visit their website. Please note that Health First Europe is not affiliated with the Stockholm Network.

NEWS: Health Council Conclusions on Patient Mobility – EU focus on patient mobility comes too late for many

Brussels 02 June 2004 – On 10th December 1996, Mr. Peerbooms, a Dutch national, fell into a coma as a result of a road traffic accident. The coma left Mr. Peerbooms in a vegetative state and requiring immediate access to a cutting edge treatment called neurostimulation. At the time of the accident there were only two centres providing this treatment, used only experimentally, in the Netherlands, and only patients under the age of 25 were allowed to undergo neurostimulation. He was subsequently transferred from a hospital in the Netherlands to the University Clinic in Innsbruck, Austria where he received the treatment which pulled him out of his coma. Mr. Peerbooms, in order to try and receive reimbursement for his treatment, had to take his case to the European Court of Justice (for more information, click here).

For many patients like Mr. Peerbooms the agonizing wait for innovative treatments in their home country will continue despite the recent conclusions of EU Health Ministers on patient mobility. Where some Member States offer cutting edge medical technologies, getting access to them for all EU citizens remains a difficult task. Mr. Peerboom’s story illustrates the extent to which national reimbursement systems vary from country to country. Different liability regimes and different data protection laws are two other obstacles that patients can encounter when attempting to obtain treatment in another Member State.

Health First Europe, an alliance representing European patients, healthcare workers, academics, experts and industry, welcomes the conclusions on patient mobility adopted in Luxembourg by European Union Health Ministers, but urges the EU to further focus on encouraging and simplifying patient access to modern, efficient, innovative and reliable medical technology and healthcare. “There is no doubt that Health Ministers see the need for patient mobility, but the demographic time bomb requires speed in addressing the core problems of access and investment in modern treatment techniques” stated Prof. Dr. Dr.h.c. Felix Unger, President of the European Institute of Medicine.

There are many practical hurdles that prevent European patients from obtaining equal access to healthcare. Health First Europe welcomes the intention of the European Commission to carry out a study to identify the factors that motivate those patients who travel abroad for treatment. This will provide important information to help address specific deficiencies in healthcare provision.

“True patient mobility will significantly contribute to raising quality standards through greater competition among hospitals and increasing efficiency, through greater specialization of hospitals”, stated Albert van der Zeijden, Chair, International Alliance of Patients’ Organizations (IAPO).

Health First Europe stresses, however, that the progress made so far to encourage patient mobility should not be seen as an opportunity to decrease investments in healthcare. Instead, Health First Europe would reemphasise the statement made in the April 20 European Commission Communication that “the overall economic growth and sustainable development depends on investing in health and health systems”.

NEWS: The creation of a new alliance – Health First Europe

Brussels, 17 March 2004, The creation of a new alliance – Health First Europe – was announced today by organisations representing patients, healthcare workers, academics, experts and the medical technology industry. Health First Europe will launch a awareness campaign in 2004 to encourage reflection and dialogue on the future of healthcare in Europe at a time of demographic and technological revolution.

The primary aim of the new alliance will be to ensure that equitable access to modern, innovative and reliable medical technology and healthcare is regarded as a vital investment in the future of Europe. Health First Europe calls for a truly patient-centred healthcare where every European citizen is able to benefit from the best medical treatments available. In addition, alliance members believe that health should also be seen as a productive economic factor in terms of employment, innovation and economic growth.

The website of Health First Europe, www.healthfirsteurope.org, will play an important part in the dissemination of information to the general public, policy makers and the media. A short film introducing Health First Europe is also available on the website.

On the occasion of the launch of Health First Europe, various members and supporters commented on a number of the key objectives and views of the new alliance:
Equitable Access – Reflecting on how equitable patient and clinical access to modern, innovative and reliable medical technology and healthcare should be regarded as a vital investment in the future of Europe, Albert van der Zeijden, Chairman of the International Alliance of Patients’ Organisations (IAPO), said “Scarce resources within the field of healthcare, an ageing population, an enlarged Europe, the emergence of new treatments, and of course “bed blocking” in some countries – will mean that we shall need to be creative and that we will need to seek ways to provide efficient healthcare without lowering the standard of care. We must ensure that access to, and availability of, the most effective treatments and medical devices are made available to all patients”.

Rethinking Healthcare – Health First Europe members believe that there are certain weaknesses in European healthcare systems today and that a rethink is required in order to meet current and future health challenges. John Bowis, Member of the European Parliament (EPP, UK), a former UK Minister for Health and one of the European Parliament supporters of Health First Europe, added: “The set-up of Health First Europe comes at a time when both patients, the medical profession and industry as well as relevant authorities must look at how Europe will maintain the healthcare provisions that citizens have come to expect. For example, the greying of the European population and the rapid progression of medical innovation pose a number of important challenges and opportunities today. In order to meet these challenges, a rethink of European healthcare systems is required“.

Health = Wealth – Healthcare is all too often seen as a burden on public finances. Health First Europe believes that the opposite is true – in fact, one can argue that “Health = Wealth”. Reflecting on the economic impacts of healthcare, Prof. Dr. Dr.h.c. Felix Unger, President of the European Institute of Medicine, commented: “Healthcare is still all too often considered as a drain on public finances, as a “bottomless pit”. Yet healthcare is a key economic factor in terms of employment, innovation and economic growth. A healthy society is an indispensable prerequisite of a flourishing and wealthy society. Sustainable improvement to healthcare leads to an increase of human capital as a source of wealth. Effective healthcare is therefore essential to maintaining and improving the quality of life and economic growth”.

Adequate Funding – Barry Wilson, chairman of the board of the European Medical Technology Industry Association (Eucomed), explains, “New life saving breakthrough therapies in medical technology are delayed in their availability to patients across Europe due to inadequate funding and reimbursement. The fundamental issues remain the low percentage of GDP spent on healthcare and the way that healthcare resources are allocated. In defining their economic priorities, the EU Member States should focus more on the needs of their ageing populations. European citizens want and need better access to life saving and life enhancing medical technology”.

Creative Thinking – As Europeans live longer, the burden of chronic disease is constantly increasing. Homecare and self-care for example can help to reduce the need for hospitalisation and can contribute to building new and more flexible modes of healthcare delivery. Representing the interests of European doctors within Health First Europe, Dr. Vincenzo Costigliola, President of the European Medical Association (EMA), commented: “The approach to healthcare in Europe must change from one of reactive response to one of active promotion of good health. This implies a break with the traditional structures of health-care provision to allow the design of new systems, individually tailored to the needs of each patient”.

In 2004, Health First Europe plans to host a number of high profile events with the aim of further advancing the European healthcare debate. These events will include a ‘medical devices of the future’ exhibition in the European Parliament in Brussels. Efforts will also be focused on a number of international awareness days, such as world Parkinson’s day, through partnerships with related organisations to draw attention to patient’s needs and to the technologies and solutions available.