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Brussels, 23 April 2009

Commissioner Vassiliou welcomes the European Parliament's positive contribution to building a ‘Europe for Patients’

Today, the European Parliament voted on three important health policy initiatives; patients' rights in cross border healthcare, improving patient safety and an EU strategy on rare diseases. These actions mark an important step forward in providing patients with better opportunities and access to healthcare in Europe. The first reading vote on cross border healthcare endorses the Commission's proposal and further emphasises patients’ rights and the need for quality and safety in healthcare. Patients need clear information on their rights and conditions when seeking healthcare in another EU country. The European Parliament also highlighted in all three health votes the need for enhanced cooperation between all EU Member States, in order to pool knowledge and expertise to maximise health benefits for all.

From Strasbourg, Health Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, said: "I am indeed very pleased that the European Parliament has seized the opportunity to take a major step forward towards building a 'Europe for Patients'. I am convinced that this will lead to greater confidence and knowledge for all citizens about the healthcare they receive. These are initiatives that really bring the European Union closer to its citizens."

Patients Rights in Cross Border Healthcare

Following 2 years of reflection and broad consultation, the Commission adopted a proposal for a directive on the application of patients rights in cross border healthcare on 2 July 2008. The European Parliament voted its first reading today after several months of intense debates in 7 parliamentary committees. The European Parliament confirmed the need for a legislative framework which clarifies the rights and conditions under which patients seek, and are reimbursed, for healthcare in another Member State. Many of the amendments sought to strengthen patients' rights through greater emphasis on providing public information on the quality and safety of healthcare. Overall, the Commission welcomes the Parliament’s supportive stance on fostering further European co-operation on health.

Patient safety and the prevention and control of healthcare associated infections

The recommendation to improve patient safety in Europe and reduce healthcare associated infections was adopted by the Commission on 15 December 2008. The Commission’s proposal aims to help EU Member States in one of the biggest challenges that the EU health systems are facing – unintended harm to patients while receiving healthcare. It is estimated that 8%-12% of patients admitted to hospitals suffer harm.

Some of the reasons for this harm stem from medication errors, surgical errors, equipment failures and errors in diagnosis. One of the most common causes of patient harm is from healthcare associated infections (HCAIs) which account for approximately 37,000 deaths annually in the EU. It is estimated that 1 in 20 hospitalised patients are affected by HCAIs. This is an unacceptable situation and the Commission’s proposal sets out specific recommendations to work with Member States in developing and strengthening patient safety systems. The Commission welcomes the European Parliaments’ supportive approach and strong emphasis on educating, training and increasing numbers of health workers responsible for infection prevention and control. While, the Commission disagrees with the Parliaments proposal to use EU targets, it supports the idea of developing common indicators to measure HCAIs and the other causes of patient harm.

European action on rare diseases

Rare diseases are life-threatening or chronically debilitating diseases with a low prevalence. However, due to the large numbers of individual rare diseases (5,000-8,000 identified), they can affect up to 6% of the total EU population, or 29-36 million people. The Communication and Recommendation on rare diseases, adopted by the Commission on 11 November 2008, serves as a prime example of where working at EU level adds value. It aims to improve the recognition of rare diseases and pool expertise, experience and research to maximise the effective use of resources to the benefit of all rare disease patients. The Commission welcomes the Parliament's call for stronger EU support to tackle rare diseases and agrees with the need for wider international collaboration on rare diseases. The Parliament’s support for European Reference Networks which improve access to specialist care, pool research to develop more effective treatments and foster cross-border cooperation, is particularly welcome.

More information:

Cross Border Healthcare

Patient Safety

Rare Diseases

Europe for Patients campaign

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