The CoR Interregional Group on Health and Well-being (IRGHW) held a meeting on 22 April. The event was an occasion for the members of the Interregional Group to deep dive into the State of Health in the EU, completed and published in December 2021, and discuss some critical issues related to how to build a European path toward healthcare systems’ resilience, thanks to the participation of Ms. Francesca Colombo, Director of the Health Division at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and Ms. Maya Matthews, Head of Unit of the DG SANTE, European Commission.
After illustrating the State of Health in the EU cycle, Ms. Francesca Colombo provided an overview of the latest evidence and key findings on health across Europe that emerged from the joint work of the OECD, European Commission and the European Observatory of the Health System. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, life expectancy fell by 0.7 years in Europe, the biggest drop since World War II, and estimates rise among and within countries if we look at lower-income groups and people with a low level of education. Besides COVID-19, non-communicable diseases (especially cancer and cardiovascular diseases) were the deadliest diseases in Europe in the last two years. Ms. Colombo expressed the need to invest in public health and prevention to build more resilient health systems and reduce the inequalities across and within countries, tackling the health and environmental risk factors that affect individuals and society. In fact, the budget dedicated to prevention and public health is still meager (around 3%) across Europe. She also underlined the importance of investing in the healthcare workforce, as it proved to be the backbone of healthcare systems during the pandemic.
Ms. Maya Matthews complemented the contribution of Ms. Colombo by presenting more in-depth the Companion Report and its main takeaways based on the findings of the Country Health Profiles 2021. The first key takeaway is understanding the far-reaching health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which are very hard as regards the sphere of “forgone non-COVID cares” (such as cancers and chronic diseases), mental health, and the so-called “long COVID” conditions. The second takeaway is how to lock in the huge surge of digital innovation in healthcare delivery and public health. In this context, Ms. Matthews underlined the importance of data, linking it to the opportunities created by the European Health Data Space (EHDS). The third takeaway concerns the health workforce, with the need to improve its preparedness through education and training (especially for digital skills).
The meeting reserved, at its end, a moment for questions and exchange of ideas and opinions. Particular attention was paid to data and the role of regions in the process of collection, use and evaluation of data to assess the health status in Europe and improve EU healthcare systems.