The event opened with remarks from Ossi Martikainen, member of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) and Chair of the CoR Commission for Natural Resources (NAT), who explained the rising issues Europe is facing in terms of healthcare. A lot of EU healthcare systems are out of date and are unable to face today’s challenges, such as the ageing population and the need to promote the sharing of data efficiently across borders.
Mr Martikainen’s remarks were followed by Vytenis Andriukaitis’ speech. The European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety spoke about the need to develop preventative healthcare, rather than disease-centered care, as “if we invest more on prevention today, we will definitely pay less on healthcare tomorrow”. He also underlined the importance of empowering European citizens to implement healthy lifestyles, such as receiving vaccinations and cancer screenings, so they may curb illnesses before they occur. Promoting active aging is also essential. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to take an holistic approach and act at all levels – local, regional, national, and European. He stressed that regional and local health authorities are very powerful actors, as a lot can be done at regional level to change the current patterns and it is important to work in partnership. Commissioner Andriukaitis clearly called for concrete actions by saying: “We owe a lot of our successes to collaboration, which can be further enhanced at the local and regional level” and “Regional and local authorities should continue to cooperate to show central governments that cross-EU cooperation is beneficial” and called on participants to work more closely together. Mr Andriukaitis concluded by mentioning the different EU funding tools available to invest in the health sector, such as the Investment Plan for Europe (and the future InvestEU program) and the European Structural and Investment Funds, which help deliver improved health services to more than 40 million people in the EU by supporting the transformation of health systems and the development of public health policies.
Cristian-Silviu Bușoi, Member of the European Parliament and of the ENVI Committee also underlined the need to move from disease-centered care to patient-centered care as a preventative measure. Mr Busoi also pointed out that European institutions must work together to address the current inefficiencies in the healthcare sector and to encourage coherence between countries. To this end, engaging regional and local authorities is key and EU regions should find a way to cooperate with the Steering Group on Health Promotion, Disease Prevention and Management of Non-Communicable Diseases and other EU decision-making bodies. He also stated that health must remain a key area of action at all levels, including at EU level, as tackling the most pressing health challenges at EU level is key to developing more sustainable healthcare systems.
Birgitta Sacrédeus, member of the European Committee of the Regions and Chair of the CoR Interregional Group on Health and Well-being focused on the importance of new technologies and the need to meet with the industry, academia, the public sector, and the civil society to cooperate and work together in a common platform. She also underlined that the European Commission Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety (DG SANTE) plays a leading role in finding a forum for dialogue for all health stakeholders.
The first session concluded with Leen Meulenbergs, the WHO Representative to the EU, who stressed that health is essential to development and announced that the World Health Organisation is going to focus a lot more on partnerships, as it is only by acting together that the health-related Sustainable Development Goals can be fully achieved. Ms Meulenbergs concluded by stating that “thinking global and acting local goes hand in hand”.
The second part of the event consisted in a panel discussion including an interactive session with the audience. Panelists answered some questions and discussed with the audience how to:
- create effective, accessible and resilient healthcare systems;
- improve integrated care across Europe;
- make best use of the European Structural and Investment Funds in the health sector;
- make progress in research and innovation through the Smart Specialisation Platforms.
Nick Batey, EUREGHA Chair, highlighted that it is necessary to shift from low-value to high-value interventions and underlined the key role of partnerships like the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing. Mr Batey also took the opportunity to present EUREGHA’s position paper “The future of Health in Europe beyond 2020” and launch the “Health in all Regions” campaign aimed at reflecting the regional and local perspective at EU level.
Ana Carriazo from the Reference Site Collaborative Network (RSCN) focused on integrated care and underlined the importance of having very strong primary care with teams of professionals working together. The Reference Site Collaborate Network brings together all European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing Reference Sites, and Candidate Reference Sites, across Europe into a single forum to promote cooperation and develop and promote areas of innovative good practice and solutions. Mrs. Carriazo highlighted that one of the key assets of the RSCN is the twinning experience and the exchange of knowledge among participants, as learning from each other and communicating what goes on at territorial level is key to improving our health systems.
Hortense Lutz-Hermellin, Head of Office of the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes delegation to the EU, focused on the MedTech Smart Specialisation Platform and underlined that regional innovation ecosystems and smart specialization platforms ensure cooperation across the whole value chain by bringing together research industry, public authorities, and citizens through a number of initiatives like Vanguard and Interreg, among others. She added that working together and developing common strategies in joint partnerships is key to breaking the silos.
Jennifer McGuinn presented the main outcomes of the ESI Funds for Health project. She highlighted that the European Structural and Investment Funds offer many opportunities to invest in the health sector across the EU. ESIF programmes and projects currently address many health needs including health inequalities, the challenges of an ageing population, and the need to build more sustainable and innovative healthcare systems. These challenges typically involve place-based solutions, enabling better quality services to reach the local communities that need them, as often these communities lie outside capital cities and major urban areas. Local and regional health authorities are closest to the health needs of their citizens and to the social and economic problems and opportunities of each territory. Therefore, acknowledgement of the role of health stakeholders, in particular local and regional authorities, in the process of programming as well as project design and implementation should be reinforced in the next programming period (2021-2027) to ensure the best outcomes for the health sector.
The event concluded with Sylvain Giraud’s closing remarks. Mr Giraud, Head of Unit at the Directorate-General for Health and Food Safety, European Commission, focused on the use of EU funds, EU financial instruments, EU policies and programmes to boost investment in health. He underlined that the opportunities are there to invest in health. Regions and local authorities must be prepared to seize them and the European Commission helps them do so by supporting capacity building activities”
Throughout the session, participants were also able to add their input through an interactive questionnaire. This was a way to engage the audience and have dialogue between citizens and healthcare professionals and policy makers. All panelists agreed that
There is a clear need for closer collaboration between European regions and the EU institutions, and novel partnerships among health stakeholders, as breaking the silos and developing common strategies in joint partnership is key to addressing the current health challenges. Moreover, health must remain a key area of action at all levels, including at EU level.