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Member of the European Commission, responsible for Health and Consumer Policy

Towards a healthier future for all European citizens

european health forum

Gastein, 8th October 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to be here today at the Gastein Health Forum for the first time.

I fully appreciate the importance of this influential annual forum; and I am delighted to exchange ideas with so many of you.

The question that has brought us here today is: "are we ready for the future?"

Let us first see how we would like our future to be. What do we hope to achieve and what do we want to bequeath to our children and our youth:

My hope is for:

A Europe where all citizens can grow, live and age in good health

A Europe that promotes good health, with less suffering from preventable diseases

A Europe where all patients get the healthcare they need

A Europe of dynamic, innovative, efficient and sustainable health systems

And finally, a Europe where our youth makes the right choices about their health at an early stage to enable them to lead a full, healthy and responsible life.

The question for me is "what do we need to do to get there"?

Each of us can make a meaningful contribution. Each of us has a role to play in building our future.

Let me highlight what I plan to do during my mandate to contribute to "this future".

The future for many of us – and for our children - is likely to stretch a lot further than it did in past generations.

This means stronger intergenerational solidarity will have to guide our actions and policy choices. The older generation will grow and our responsibility towards them will have to grow in tandem.

This requires us to think of an adaptation of our future society to gear up to deal with the challenges and needs of older people. We need to help citizens maximise their life potential to remain active, independent and healthy as they grow older.

One way to do so is to use innovation and technology for diagnosis and care or for mobility support.

Another way, which I very much wish to emphasise, is to invest in promoting good health and preventing diseases.

Many of the problems affecting the elderly derive from what they ate or drank, and from whether or not they smoked or exercised during their lives.

We need to drive home the message that one cannot lead a consistently unhealthy life and then expect to go on to enjoy a long and healthy retirement.

Investing in prevention builds a reserve for the future. Like a solid long-term financial investment, it bears fruit when it reaches maturity. Investment today, results tomorrow.

What results can we expect if we only invest 3% of health budgets in prevention? If we want to see results, we need to bring prevention to the forefront.

Europe needs to invest more time, more effort and more money in prevention.

Take obesity. If today's children eat well and exercise, tomorrow's adults will be in better shape and suffer less from obesity-related diseases.

Think about smoking. Smoking means illness and suffering for our citizens and avoidable healthcare spending for our governments.

And yet, 37% of our young Europeans still smoke.

Should we simply watch and do nothing while our future workforce smokes away its health?

If we dissuade people from taking up smoking now, the future will have fewer smokers, fewer people suffering from tobacco-related diseases, lower health costs; and ultimately healthier and longer lives.

We have been talking about smoking for many years. I believe the time has come to consider all the means at our disposal to fight what tobacco does to people's health.

We need innovative sources of funding to raise awareness, to make tobacco unattractive in particular to young people, and to help smokers quit. We need to fund research into curing tobacco-related diseases and to rethink tobacco products.

The European Commission has just launched a public consultation on the possible revision of EU Tobacco products law. I take this opportunity to invite you all to participate.

I want to know - what you want the EU to do - about tobacco.

EU Member States have already committed themselves to a "smoke-free Europe" by 2012. Many, most recently Finland and Greece, have adopted new laws restricting smoking.

I encourage all governments to turn their 'smoke free Europe' commitment into law and to enforce it. I am aware this does not always make Health Ministers popular. But the stakes for our future generations are too high to miss the opportunity to take action now.

This is one key area where, as a society, we can invest more - in effort and in means - to combat a habit whose cost is simply too high.

Our efforts do not stop here. As I said earlier, we need to prepare for the future ageing society and we have the responsibility to address this challenge through the use of innovation and technology.

I am sure that you have all heard of the Commission’s recent strategic vision EU 2020.

The key societal challenge underpinned in the strategy is how we can today prepare for the demographic challenge of tomorrow in times that are economically and socially difficult.

For me the means to address this challenge is to unlock the potential of innovation in order to contribute to economically and socially sustainable delivery of health services.

Innovation is the engine that will safely deliver a precious cargo to safe harbour. Innovation is the key to invest today for the good of the generations of tomorrow.

If we want our citizens to be healthy, we need to support innovation to prevent, diagnose, treat and manage diseases.

We need an innovative, state-of-the-art, competitive pharmaceutical industry that invests in research and development of new medicines. New technologies and therapies, such as personalised medicines, can make all the difference.

The pharmaceutical and the medical devices industries are not like any other industries. Europeans' health depends on them.

This is why Europe needs a clear and patient-centred legal framework within which our industries can respond to demand driven calls and ever higher patient expectations.

I am delighted with good progress made in revising EU pharmaceutical laws.

Just last week, the European Parliament approved new rules on Pharmacovigilance that will enable patients and health professionals to work better together to improve medication safety.

I hope that agreement on falsified medicines legislation will follow shortly.

The Commission will also revisit legislation on information to patients, after having the views of the European Parliament, to ensure that they fully reflect the interests of patients.

Medicines, important as they are, are one part of the picture. Innovation in health also means fully exploiting modern technology for health purposes.

Think of eHealth.

Would it not be good for citizens to access the best medical expertise via telemedicine without having to leave their home towns?

Would it not increase citizens' comfort; and save doctors time; if patients could be monitored from home when their condition is not critical?

eHealth's potential is enormous. The technology is there, waiting to be used. Some of the stumbling blocks seem to be lack of inter-operability, that needs to be addressed at European level, and costs.

As an ex-Finance Minister, I know technology can be expensive and clearly needs to be used wisely.

And this is why assessing new technologies is so important. The European Commission is currently working on Health Technology Assessment together with Member States, to improve European co-operation on this issue and develop common methods.

If we cooperate better, we can help all Member States to better target the huge public health budget on those products with the highest benefits for patients and society. And we can prevent duplication of efforts.

At the same time, better coordination at European level can give patients throughout the Union quicker access to medicines; and it can help innovative companies confront different national systems.

Progress on eHealth and on technology assessment depends on Member States' political will to make it happen. This is a key opportunity crying out to be seized.

All of you in this room have a role to play in promoting these areas of development and creating awareness of their beneficial potential.

On eHealth, in particular, Member States will need to decide to what extent they want to engage in co-operation for example to ensure the safety and quality of care in emergency situations.

This debate is now taking place in the context of adopting a new Directive on patients' rights in cross border healthcare. I am confident that compromises will be found between the Parliament and the Council to allow the Directive to be adopted shorthly.

Indeed this Directive is crucial to clarify patients' rights when seeking healthcare in another Member State – and is central to delivering a Europe for patients.

It is also a basis for Europe to engage seriously in promoting health technologies that today remain fragmented and bereft of interoperability at the level of the Member States.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As we begin to see the full effects on health of the financial crisis, there is a risk that existing gaps – across Europe, across social groups - will widen further. That is why reducing health inequalities will continue to be a battle in which we must all engage.

I am determined to do all I can to see a healthy future for all citizens, regardless of where they live or how much they earn.

This is why I am working with Member States in implemeting our strategy on solidarity in health.

This is why I see sustainability of our health systems as a key contribution to bridging gaps.

This is why I have put innovation at the heart of my policy; not because it is an objective in itself but because it is a means to serve our patients.

In its efforts to promote innovation, the Commission presented this week its ideas how to turn the Union into an Innovation Union by 2020. One key tool is the creation of so-called Innovation Partnerships.

I am very pleased that the very first of these Partnerships is on active and healthy ageing.

Our objective is ambitious: we want to increase by two years the number of years that Europeans can live an active and healthy life beyond today’s level which is around 61.

This will not only improve the quality of life of our citizens, it will also have significant positive impacts on our workforce and the competitiveness of Europe.

To succeed, we will need close cooperation across different policies covering public health, research and industrial policy. And we need strong commitment from all partners, both public and private, at local, regional, national and European level.

It is only if we work together and if each of us does his or her part that we can work All for Health to deliver Health for all.

It is only together that we can build a solid future for our citizens to live active and healthy lives.

This is my hope.

This is my determination.

Thank you.

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