Organising and delivering healthcare is the responsibility of national governments. The EU role is to complement national policies by:
EU health policy - implemented though its Health Strategy - focuses on:
Health also has implications for economic prosperity - see the policy paper Investing in Health.
Specific EU action
The EU promotes healthier eating.
The EU supports activities to prevent diseases, such as:
The EU is helping its member governments be better prepared for serious cross-border health threats and better able to coordinate their response – for example by enabling joint purchasing of vaccines and other medical countermeasures.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention & Control in Stockholm assesses emerging threats, enabling the EU to respond quickly. It pools and shares knowledge on current and emerging threats, and works with its national counterparts to develop Europe-wide disease surveillance.
Public health policy ensures that medicines are monitored throughout their lifespan
Each EU country has strict testing requirements for medicines before they can be placed on the market. They then monitor the safety of those medicines throughout their lifespan – if a medicine turns out to be dangerous, quick action is taken, such as suspending or withdrawing the marketing permit.
The Commission, the national authorities, and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in London all have a role to play in this system. The EMA helps national regulators by coordinating the scientific evaluation of the quality, safety and efficacy of medicines.
The EU will spend almost €7.5bn on research to improve European healthcare between 2014 and 2020 – through its research programme, Horizon 2020.
The EU helps where it is easier or necessary to go abroad for treatment - for example where the nearest hospital is just across the border or where specialist treatment is only available abroad.
The rights of EU citizens to be treated in another EU country are clarified in an EU law on patients' rights in cross-border healthcare, which also:
The European health insurance card makes it easier for holidaymakers and business travellers to get treated if they get ill in another European country.
The EU works closely with strategic partners like the World Health Organisation to improve healthcare across the world through research, development aid, greater access to medicines, etc.
Manuscript updated in November 2014
This publication is part of the 'European Union explained' series