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A new strategic approach to health for the EU (2008-2013)

The present White Paper sets out a new Community health strategy until 2013, which is designed to confront the growing challenges to the health of Europe's citizens, such as population ageing, cross-border health threats or illnesses linked to unhealthy lifestyles. This strategy is also intended to strengthen, in a single strategic framework, Community cooperation in the areas in which the Member States cannot act alone, ensure that health is better understood at European level and worldwide, and secure a bigger role for health in all policies. To this end, the White Paper proposes four principles and three strategic objectives for the coming years.

ACT

Commission White Paper of 23 October 2007 'Together for Health: A Strategic Approach for the EU 2008-2013' [COM(2007) 630 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

SUMMARY

The area of health is essentially the responsibility of the Member States. The role of the European Union (EU), as laid down in the European treaties, is to undertake measures to supplement the work of the Member States, while providing European added value, particularly with regard to major health threats, issues that have a cross-border or international impact and questions relating to the free movement of goods, services and people.

Accordingly, a cross-sectoral approach is vital and all Community policies must play a role in health protection.

The new strategy set out in the White Paper therefore relates to health in all sectors. It must also, in a single strategic framework, confront the growing challenges for the health of the population, such as demographic changes, pandemics, bioterrorism and illnesses related to unhealthy lifestyles.

The White Paper proposes four principles for the coming years.

Principle I: a strategy based on shared health values

The Commission and the Member States have worked together to develop an approach to EU healthcare systems that is based on common values.

In 2006, the Council adopted a statement on these values, underlining that universality, access to good quality care, equity and solidarity were fundamental.

A new statement on the common values of health policy in the broader sense should be adopted based on this Council statement.

Patients' rights, such as participation in decision making and health literacy, should also be taken into consideration in Community health policy. Consequently, the Commission must support programmes that boost health literacy among different age groups.

Inequalities in the health sector still exist between different Member States and between different regions, as well as worldwide. Life expectancy rates at birth do vary greatly between European countries. Given that reducing inequalities is linked to improving health, the Commission will put forward measures to help reduce these inequalities.

Health policy must be based on the best scientific evidence available. To this end, the Commission must gather comparable data from the Member States. Therefore, a system of health indicators is needed, with common mechanisms for collecting comparable data at all levels.

Principle II: health is the greatest wealth

A healthy population is a prerequisite for economic productivity and prosperity. In fact, life expectancy in good health, i.e. how long the population lives in good health, is a key factor for economic growth.

Spending on health-related problems represents a significant economic burden for society. Therefore, the first priority for health expenditure should be investment in prevention, to protect the general health of the population.

It is not always easy to understand the economic impact of an improvement in health levels or the economic factors linked to health and sickness. The Commission and the Member States must develop a programme of analytical studies of the economic relationships between health status, health investment and economic growth.

Principle III: health in all policies (HIAP)

Health policy is not the only policy of decisive importance in health matters. Other policies, such as environment, research and regional policies, those regulating pharmaceuticals and foodstuffs, those coordinating social security systems and those governing tobacco taxation, play an essential role. Accordingly, synergies must be created between all the sectors that are of vital importance for health.

Health in all policies allows a system of more effective Community action to be put in place.

Globalisation means that the HIAP approach must also be applied to foreign policy, including development and trade.

The Commission and the Member States must therefore ensure that health concerns are better integrated into all policies at Community, Member State and regional level.

Principle IV: strengthening the EU's voice in global health

In order to better protect the health of its citizens and citizens of third countries, the EU must do more to improve health throughout the world. Community actions must not be disassociated from actions taken at a global level.

The EU must therefore consolidate its position within international organisations and strengthen cooperation with its partners.

Finally, it must ensure that health concerns are properly provided for in EU external assistance mechanisms and that international health agreements are implemented, particularly international health regulations.

In addition to these principles, there are three strategic objectives that define Community action in the field of health for the coming years.

Objective I: fostering good health in an ageing Europe

Europe has a low birth rate and people are living longer and longer. In the future, population ageing is bound to lead to a sharp rise in demand for healthcare.

This could push up healthcare spending, but this rise could be halved if people remained healthy as they got older.

The Commission must therefore support appropriate measures to improve the health of older people, active people and children, so as to help the population become more productive and age in good health.

Other measures concerning tobacco, nutrition, alcohol and mental health must also be developed, and new guidelines on cancer screening will be prepared.

Objective II: protecting citizens from health threats

Protecting human health is an obligation in the EU. At Community level, this protection includes scientific risk assessment, preparedness for and response to epidemics and bioterrorism, improving workers' safety and measures concerning accidents.

However, there must be Community cooperation and coordination between the Member States and international actors in order to combat pandemics, biological incidents and bioterrorism.

The impact on public health of new threats, such as those linked to climate change, must also be studied, and the mechanisms for surveillance and response to health threats must be strengthened.

Objective III: supporting dynamic health systems and new technologies

New technologies can improve disease prevention and facilitate patient safety.

A Community framework for safe and high-quality health services is therefore needed and, in particular, measures to support the Member States and regions in managing innovation in health systems.

Implementation mechanism and financing

The Member States must work together closely for the purposes of this strategy. The Commission will therefore put forward a structured cooperation mechanism for implementing the strategy to promote cooperation between the Member States.

This strategy will be financed by the current financial instruments, which expire in 2013.

Last updated: 17.05.2011
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