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SPEECH/ 09/444

Androulla Vassiliou

Member of the European Commission, responsible for Health

High level session : "Together for achieving sustainable healthcare in the EU"

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED


Speec h at the occasion of the "Open Days 2009", at the High level session "Together for achieving sustainable healthcare in the EU"

Brussels, 6 October 2009

Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be here with all of you today to open the session "Together for achieving sustainable healthcare".

This is the third year of active participation of the Directorate General for Health and Consumers (DG SANCO) in the Open Days.

This workshop organised in cooperation with COCIR (the European Radiological, Electro-medical and Healthcare IT industry) and EUREGHA (EU regional and local health authorities) is a clear example of the emphasis we put on cooperation with regions and stakeholders in order to achieve our common health goals.

Health systems in Europe are under growing pressure.

The economic crisis, together with an ageing population and the high cost of technology, is putting additional pressure on health systems. And we know that these systems are already struggling to provide adequate care while remaining financially viable.

Ensuring the financial sustainability of health systems is of utmost importance at European level, and it is an issue that requires both coordination and dialogue between us all.

In order to help us maximise our contribution to this end, and to provide a coherent approach to EU health action, in 2007 the Commission adopted a Health Strategy with key objectives and principles.

The Health Strategy aims to pursue three general objectives:

First, to foster good health in an ageing Europe.

Second, to protect citizens against health threats.

Third, to support dynamic Health Systems and new technologies.

The EU Health Strategy, which has been developed together with you, our regional partners, aims to give a consistent and effective response to challenges faced by health systems; and our cooperation is essential to ensure that the Strategy is implemented through real actions.

We live in a time where preventable diseases caused by unhealthy lifestyles including smoking, binge-drinking, obesity and stress are becoming more predominant and are having a considerable health impact.

We all agree that we need a greater shift towards prevention to avoid diseases in the first place.

That is why we have been focusing on promoting healthy lifestyles and on tackling the determinants of health. In this context, we have developed policies on nutrition, obesity and alcohol-related harm.

Now, more than ever, health is competing with other policy priorities. We are being called upon more urgently to make a convincing case for investing in health promotion and disease prevention.

In time, this investment will pay off – in quality of life, in lower healthcare bills and in a more productive workforce.

To help health systems in Member States, the European Union acts to support efforts to achieve economies of scale and efficiency through pooling resources and exchanges of expertise and knowledge.

No matter how big the current challenges might seem, the European Union strongly believes that we must continue to base our approach on some basic common values and principles for health care.

Social protection should ensure a fair distribution of resources and give all Europeans access to high quality care, independent of their ability to pay.

In 2006, Ministers came together to confirm the EU's commitment to overarching common values and principles such as, universality, access to good quality care, equity and solidarity.

The Commission aims to support health care systems to ensure their effectiveness and efficiency and to maximise their sustainability .

In this context, last year the Commission put forward a whole series of initiatives to support health systems.

We adopted an initiative aimed at helping to improve patient safety and the quality of health services.

We also adopted a Green paper on the EU health workforce.

This is intended to initiate a public debate on the future of the European health workforce, and on what we can do to foster appropriate skills and capacity across Europe. We are currently analysing the answers received and are thankful for the contribution from the regions.

In addition, the Commission put forward a Community strategy on rare diseases to support Member State co-operation in diagnosing and treating citizens with rare diseases.

We also adopted a proposal for EU legislation on safety and quality measures for organ donation and an action plan to strengthen organ donation and transplantation systems in Europe.

The Commission is also fostering co-operation between Member States on Health Technology Assessment. We all know that new technologies save lives, increase patient safety and greatly improve healthcare.

But they can be very costly. We must therefore ensure that technology and medical devices are properly evaluated and used in the most effective way.

We are currently setting up an initiative with Member States and other stakeholders, building on the European Network on Health Technology Assessment.

Last but not least, the Commission adopted a proposal for an EU Directive on the application of patients' rights in cross-border healthcare which will strengthen the cooperation between health services.

What does this mean for regional authorities?

Although health policies are set at national level, it is often regional and local authorities which are responsible for managing health resources and configuring services to meet local needs.

DG SANCO recognises the vital role of the regions as key actors in health. There is great potential for regions to work together on their priorities and share their experiences. Cooperation makes sense for authorities at all levels, bringing added-value and benefits for our citizens.

Projects already exist under the Regions for Economic Change Initiative, such as the Building Healthy Communities Project (BHC) also under the Health Programme we have the "Healthy regions" project where regions and EU regional networks combine efforts to invest in health. The aim is to exchange good practice and to develop a modern concept for healthy regions, where investment in health is a factor for economic growth and social cohesion.

European networks of regions, such as EUREGHA, our partner for the workshop today, actively support regions to cooperate on health issues.

Furthermore, the Commission is exploring new and innovative tools to help us to work together more effectively.

We are considering, with the Committee of the Regions, a more structured approach for cooperation with regions in several areas such as health promotion, health workforce and use of Structural Funds for Health, where regions have a key role to play.

The first area is the work on health determinants and in particularly lifestyle related determinants. At EU level we have set up a platform on nutrition, and also an alcohol forum, which might be of interest for the regions to be involved in.

Actions on health determinants are critical to ensure sustainable health systems. If our workers and our citizens are healthy, we are better placed to achieve a successful and prosperous Europe. New cooperation approaches with all stakeholders, such as the development of networks and platforms can help to generate momentum and commitment to tackle these issues.

The second area under consideration for more structured cooperation with the regions is the health workforce. We need to think together about how to recruit and retain good quality health workers; about the impact of their mobility; and above all about how we can ensure that their skills are used in the most effective manner.

Regions are often responsible for large workforces in the health area and know the difficulties that we face in relation to recruitment and retention of health professionals and ensuring there is sufficient coverage of staff for all health facilities. Cooperation on how to recruit, train and efficiently deploy health professionals is important.

And the third is the use of the Structural Funds for health investments and health promotion.

Despite the general acceptance of the basic common principles and values for health systems, the reality is that, in practice, they do not always translate into universal access to high quality health care.

Within the EU, there are still far too many health inequalities, particularly with regard to access to healthcare. There are still significant unmet health care needs.

Some of these differences are inherently avoidable and there is a need for political action to address them. The structural funds are one important tool to achieve this objective

Learning from each other is valuable for ensuring efficient health investments from the EU Structural Funds. The financial framework covering the period 2007-2013 includes health for the first time as an eligible area for funding in the EU cohesion guidelines.

Around EUR 5 billion, or 1.5 % of the total Structural Funds, have been allocated for health, mainly for investment in health infrastructure through the European Regional Development Funds

In addition, a number of complementary activities, related to training, prevention and health promotion programmes, can be financed through the European Social Fund.

The European Commission's main objective is to support Member States, regions and stakeholders in efficiently utilising the available resources for health and to maximise the value of health investments.

Therefore, raising awareness and knowledge among European regions and stakeholders about how to apply for financing opportunities is crucial.

This is why we intend to post useful information about the Structural Funds and Health on our website.

The European Investment Bank is also a good source of support in this area as it tries to match its funding priorities with those of the Structural Funds. It could provide expertise and financial support for the development and implementation of projects.

The next few years will present us with some formidable challenges: climate change, economic recovery, tackling inequalities, the growing burden of chronic diseases and the rapid development of new technologies.

But I am convinced that for our common challenges, there are common solutions.

Only by working together can we offer citizens of all regions in Europe a healthier future.

I look forward to our discussion and would like to thank you for sharing your vision and ideas with us today.


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