On the 27th of November the second regional debate in the framework of the European Citizens Consultations (ECC) was held in Bratislava, Slovakia. The debate involved experts from Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece to discuss the recommendations and further issues related to the subject of health.
Report on ECC Regional Debate on Health
27th of October 2009 – Bratislava, Slovakia
Opening recommendations related to the subject of health were:
- the EU should intensify its efforts towards establishing of a common health care system based on know-how from the countries with the most effective systems;
- for the purposes of disease prevention and the reduction of health risks, the EU should encourage Member States to place greater emphasis on health promotion.
In his welcome speech, Gabriel Bianchi (Partners for Democratic Change Slovakia), who is also a psychologist, pointed out an interesting contradiction: while health is always one of the top priorities in public polls, many people maintain unhealthy lifestyles. He then asked: “Is the health a neglected priority, or a highlighted marginality?” Bianchi hinted that it might be first.
Mrs. Rostislava Dimintrova from the EC (DG Sanco) presented the EU priorities and initiatives in the health policy. However, she underlined that the EC´s mandate is very limited and it could only be used in situations with clear added value. The EC is supporting greater cooperation between health systems of the Member Countries, because they bear the principal responsibility in this field.
1st panel discussion
MEP Miroslav Mikolasik (EPP-ED, Slovakia), who has contributed to the EP’s report on Organ Donation: “Health policy in the EU is on the crossroad between the challenges and capacities.” For him, health care expenses are actually economic investments. “The best invested money is that invested in the health care. This is my message to Mr Pociatek (Slovak Finance Minister)”. It was calculated that one Euro (invested) into the health care will bring maximum returns. He has also talked about other issues currently discussed on the EU level:
- the EU is preparing a directive on the cross-border health care (it is in the second reading phase in the EP), which should define the conditions for the ECJ ruling that every EU citizen has the right to health care anywhere in the EU.
- the EU is preparing the so-called “pharmaceutical package” – three directives on pharmaco-vigilance, the fight against medicine counterfeiting, and readily available information for patients. “The Pharmaceutical industry is bringing benefits for citizens´ health via the accessibility of medicines, economic growth and new jobs.”
Daniel Popescu (Public Health Authority, Romania) suggested that the EU needs a separate authority, which would supervise the quality standards of the national health care. The EU should also support an information campaign about useful health programmes, such as vaccinations.
Miroslav Lednár, from the SAFS (Slovak Association of Research-Oriented Pharmaceutical Companies) argued that the pharmaceutical industry could help to increase the quality of health care in Europe by providing transparent information, which would reveal the added value of new quality and innovative medicines, and by continuous dialogue with governments for better planning to provide accessible innovative medicines, as well as by maintaining a strong research basis in Europe. On one hand, the pharmaceutical industry in the EU benefits immensely from the single market and the free movement of goods. At the same time, however, there are still 27 different national standards and regulation. A common European health system would bring several benefits:
1. A Simplified and common set of regulations
2. More transparent regulations
3. An increase of quality of treatment of rare diseases in the European centres equipped with sufficient expertise and resources.
Vihen Petkov (Medical University, Sofia) stated that “Health care is only one of the factors for the healthy population. The others are the environment, lifestyle choices, or genetic predispositions.” Therefore it is not enough to look only at the health care systems.
Some participants of the discussion suggested that EU needs a stronger European Centre for the Prevention and Control of Diseases. ECDC is “only a humble copy of the American centre for the prevention and control of diseases in Atlanta”. MEP Mikolasik admitted that the ECDC currently does not have enough laboratories, resources and specialists to provide more research-based knowledge. One of the participants suggested the establishment of the European Institute of Health, because “without the institutional basis it is difficult to solve problems in such a complex area as health”.
2nd panel discussion
Prof. Jaromir Pastorek, president of the Slovak Academy of Sciences (and a biochemist/virologist by profession) said that the EU must be prepared for new viruses due to changed climate conditions. Thanks to several EU programmes, much has already been done in the research area: “From a practical point of view, everything is now in hands of large pharmaceutical companies, which should prepare good vaccines. The question is how long it will take, because it should be a couple of months, and not couple of years.” The EU should provide support to the member states so that they could develop new vaccines on their own, or buy them from pharmaceutical companies.
Miklos Pasztor (Corvinus University, Budapest, and member of EESC) thinks that the EU should spend less money on the agricultural policy and more on the popularization of healthy lifestyles.
Hristo Hinkov (Open Society Institute, Bulgaria, director of the health programme) asked how we could promote healthy lifestyles. By changing the people’s thinking – but here we are at risk of manipulation – by changing the environment, or by changing the cultural context.” Hinkov thinks that public health depends on health care systems only to lesser extent; therefore the health policy should be taken into account in all policies.
The general understanding is that there is not sufficient political will to boost the integration and unification of the healthcare systems in European Union. However, it is still believed that the potential for minimal European standards in national health care systems does exist. Some even hoped for a European Authority or Institute, which could define these standards and oversee their implementation.
Best practices must be shared effectively in the EU. Europe must take advantage of the added value of a common approach towards health Challenges. At the same time, it must be kept in mind that health is a multidimensional issue, this, debate needs to be more multifaceted.