European Commissioner for Health
Health Services and
the Annual Strategy for
ENVI Parliamentary Committee, European Parliament
Brussels, 27 February
President, Honourable Members,
I am pleased to have the opportunity to appear, once again, before this
Committee – to discuss with you some important matters of common
Today I will focus on two issues, in accordance with the Committee's
- first – key items from the Commission's Annual Strategy for 2008,
which fall under my responsibility and that of this Committee, and
- second – health services
Today's dialogue serves two purposes:
First, it provides me with an opportunity to set out some key elements of my
programme for 2008.
Second, it offers you the opportunity to provide feedback on the various
Focus for 2008 remains on the key strategic objectives fixed at the
start of this Commission, namely prosperity, solidarity, security and freedom.
Main target remains sustainable growth, to provide more and better jobs
– improving the economic perspective. But also delivering policies to
meet citizens' expectations of where Europe should act.
In the APS 2008 we are pushing forward with a range of ambitious policies to
show citizens how the European dimension is essential to realising their
aspirations in today's world.
This is a challenge, especially in my policy areas of public health and food
After the completion of the fifth round of enlargement of the European Union,
2008 will be a year of consolidation and continued implementation of the
existing Acquis, together with further action to ensure better regulation.
Four key aspects of the APS 2008:
- Patient safety and the quality of health services,
- Ensuring compliance with EU food safety, animal health, animal welfare and
plant health standards,
- Development of a legal framework for the risk assessment by the European
Food Safety Authority of genetically modified food and feed, and
- Developing infrastructure for crisis preparedness in the area of health and
1. Patient safety and the quality of health
- 78% of EU citizens classify medical errors as an important problem in their
country. (Eurobarometer, Jan 2006)
- Member States hold primary responsibility for ensuring patient safety as
part of their healthcare programmes.
Action at EU level aims
- Reducing the gap between Member States by facilitating the sharing of
knowledge and expertise;
- Ensuring that citizens have confidence in health services; and
- Ensuring the overall quality of those services.
- European level cooperation is important in relation to healthcare associated
infections (affect about 10% of patients). Impact of healthcare acquired
- Delays in treatment and prolongation of patients' suffering;
- Increased health care costs;
- Direct and indirect economic implications, such as loss of productivity and
- Creation of complementary problems to that of antimicrobial resistance.
- Experience with MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus),
Clostridium dificile and SARS shows that infections can spread rapidly between
Specific outputs expected in 2008 include:
- A Communication on patient safety, including a proposal for a Council
- A proposal for a council recommendation on health-care associated
- Strengthening collaboration and cooperation at European level on patient
2. Ensuring compliance with EU food safety, animal
health, animal welfare and plant health standards
Actions aiming to
better ensure compliance with EU standards:
- Monitoring implementation of EU standards by EU trading partners through
intensified verification on the ground;
- Monitoring implementation in an enlarged EU;
- More effective enforcement, better monitoring and prioritised handling of
- More than 150 countries currently export food, feed, live animals and plants
to the EU.
- Aim to increase inspection frequency by 10% by regularly visiting major
third country exporters, follow-up inspections and on-the-ground
- Recent trade problems with third countries clearly suggest that some main
trading partners lack confidence in the safety of products originating in the
- We envisage in 2008 the creation of a "special response team" in order to
monitor closely and perform on-the-spot verifications of actual progress made
towards timely and credible implementation of the acquis in the Member
- Also aim to establish internal criteria and guidance on prioritisation of
enforcement issues in relation to risk for public health and to increase the
monitoring capabilities of Commission services.
of a legal framework for risk assessment by the European Food Safety Authority
(EFSA) of GM food and feed
- Increased use of GM crops worldwide, results in a correspondingly higher
number of applications for authorisations of GM food and feed.
- In 2008 the basic regulation will have been in place for 5 years. The
expertise gained will allow a legal framework for EFSA risk assessment to be
- Implementing measures such as authorisations, control strategies and
safeguards will be adopted as needed.
infrastructure for crisis preparedness in the area of health and safety
- Crisis Management - key activity of my services in fulfilling their mission
to protect European citizen's health and safety.
- Despite preventive measures, a major cross-border health crisis will occur
at some time (e.g. SARS, influenza Pandemic).
- The ability of the EU and Member States to respond rapidly in a coordinated
manner is essential.
- Member States and the Commission have already done a lot of work, in 2005
and 2006, including developing crisis preparedness plans, running crisis
simulation exercises and establishing better co-ordination mechanisms.
- Much more needs to be done both inside the Commission and by the Member
- Need not just the development of plans – plans must also be tested,
under realistic conditions, to train the personnel involved and to identify any
practical or policy issues, (problems with basic infrastructure).
- My services are currently preparing a call for tender to reinforce
our training and exercise capacity in the public health area for the years
- Crisis simulation exercises have shown that for the Commission to
effectively fulfil its co-ordination rule during a major public health crisis,
it needs to substantially update its IT and Communication infrastructure. (as an
administration not as a body which needs to provide critical public services to
- Crisis and rapid alert systems require much higher standards of reliability
and speed of recovery than normal administrative systems.
- Therefore, there is a need for supplementary hardware, higher levels of
service (for example at weekends and at night), and greater flexibility to
intervene in case of a systems failure.
- Commission launched, in September 2006, a public consultation on the
question of possible Community action this area, which ended on 31 January.,
following the exclusion of health services from the Services Directive.
- Received 260 contributions from a broad range of interested partners.
Analysis of responses to the consultation exercise in process.
- First assessment of the contributions received broadly confirms the need for
Community action to address the range of issues set out in the consultation
paper – such as the need for legal certainty and support for cooperation
between health systems.
- There appears to be recognition of the potential added value for patients,
professionals and health systems overall from some form of Community action on
- Stakeholders also emphasised the need to respect social objectives, as well
as common values such as universality, access to good quality care, equity and
solidarity as set out by Health Ministers in June 2006.
- Challenge is not to make a choice between either having the benefits of the
internal market or respecting social values. Rather it is to put in place a
framework that can bring both the benefits of freedom of movement and respect
for health objectives and social values.
- Summary report of contributions will be drawn up within the next two months
to provide an overarching picture of the views and ideas contained in the
- Input from the European Parliament to this process would be most welcome.
- Commission plans to bring forward concrete proposals on health services
later on in 2007.
- Objective is to find a solution that will provide real added value without
creating new bureaucratic barriers whilst respecting the principle of