The EUREGHA Annual Conference 2017 “Exploring regional cross-border cooperation in health: Current practices and future outlooks” took place on 6 December at the Welsh Government EU Office in Brussels.
MEP Lukas Mandl (EPP/AU), gave an opening key note speech, emphasizing the importance of building relations between regions in the EU and the cooperation between regions in the field of health. Mr Mandl highlighted a cross-border project between Lower Austria and the Czech Republic as an example of Lower Austria’s work towards increased accessibility to healthcare, treatment and emergency care in border regions. Building bridges and removing barriers between regions and Member States matter in the daily lives of people, he concluded in his speech.
The key note speech was followed by a presentation from Karen Vandeweghe, DG REGIO, about the opportunities for cooperation in health through the Interreg programmes. Ms Vandeweghe also introduced participants to the Commission Communication “Boosting growth and cohesion in EU border regions”, which includes a study on cross-border cooperation on health jointly produced by DG SANTE and DG REGIO.
The presentation was followed by an interactive panel with EUREGHA member region representatives, sharing good practices and challenges in the field of cross-border cooperation in health in their regions. The panel participants were Kerstin Kittenberger and Judith Kramer Lower Austria (AU), Asha Verbraak and Laura Willems, Limburg (NL), Tomasz Goździkiewicz and Valdemar Baranowskij, Podlaskie (PL), Karin Cormann, German-speaking community (BE). The panel participants presented a wide range of cooperation across borders including Lower Austria’s project Healthacross, Limburgs project “Data in the EMR”, Podlaskie’s cooperation with Lithuania on the project “Healthy mother and child”, and the German-speaking Community’s cooperation with German hospitals.
Mr Balázs Lengyel, DG SANTE, presented an overview of the Directive 2011/24/EU on patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare and Commission actions and activities to promote cross-border cooperation in health. The presentation was followed by an introduction to the study “Cross-border cooperation on Health: Theory and practice” by one of the co-authors, Professor Fabienne Leloup, who presented the seven case studies displayed in the study. The case studies consist of examples of successful cross-border cooperation in healthcare in border regions. Professor Leloup explained some key ingredients for cross-border healthcare including: external and internal communication, constant comparison of rules and protocols at multiple levels, time for comparing administrative and legal systems and flexibility.
The conference was concluded by a second panel including European health networks, aiming to explore the future of cooperation in health, emphasizing that networks can be seen as complimentary, rather than competing with each other. The panel participants were Elisabeth Bengtsson, Regions for Health Network – WHO, Ana M. Carriazo, RSCN – EIP on AHA, Lucie Durocher, ERRIN, and Toni Dedeu, EUREGHA. All the networks represented has unique elements to offer to its members, which makes them equally important in the work for better health in Europe. Toni Dedeu, EUREGHA gave the concluding remarks from the panel: “We should all dance together”.
The EUREGHA Annual Conference covered many important aspects of cross-border cooperation in health, giving a diversity of perspectives on regional cooperation across borders as well as good practices to be shared between border regions.
Some conclusions from the conference:
· Differences in legal and administrative systems, language barriers and limited exchange of patient data are some of the most pressing obstacles in cross-border healthcare.
· Important factors to remove barriers for cross-border healthcare on EU-level is to promote harmonization of legal, financial and administrative systems between Member States, promote eGovernance in the framework of the eGovernment Action Plan (2016-2020) and to promote bilateral cooperation agreements between border regions.
· The sharing of good practices and mutual learning in the development towards better and more accessible healthcare across borders is essential. The issue is not about just duplicating work, but to take home relevant aspects and lessons learned and contextualize it to the own framework.
· Solutions cannot be found solely in EU legislation and regulation. The support of the European territorial cohesion policy and Interreg programmes are important elements in encouraging cross-border projects.
· Awareness-raising activities and dissemination of good practices and results have a key role in promoting collaboration in health across borders.