Welcome to the third edition of the EuroHealthNet online magazine, setting out the work of EuroHealthNet members from Italy, Slovenia, Latvia and Germany as well as updates on EU policies and activities carried out by EuroHealthNet staff. It is important to highlight these great examples that promote health, prevent disease or reduce health inequalities, as too often policy and decision makers are not aware (or not convinced) on the potential that these approaches can bring to not only sustainable health services, but also to sustainable societies as a whole.
Let us take the latest European Commission Communication on effective, accessible and resilient health services. It starts off well, including an analysis that states “Although large variations in life expectancy still persist between Member states, overall we are living longer and in better health than previous generations. This is not least because of the significant achievements made in public health and from outside the health system. Future improvements are also to be expected, for example from fewer people smoking, lower alcohol consumption, better nutrition, and greater uptake of physical activity” [COM(2014)215 final, p4].
This is a promising start. It is therefore disappointing to note that the remainder of the Communication does not further suggest investing in and strengthening the public health dimension of health systems. It could also have outlined clearer and stronger recommendations on how the health sector can address health inequalities. This is regrettable, as there are several important entry points related to the three main actions that this Communication proposes. For example:
- Strengthening effectiveness – This section could have benefitted from further suggestions on how disease and premature mortality can be prevented by integrating actions and actors from within and beyond health systems.
- Increasing accessibility – It is recognised that some people from disadvantaged backgrounds are still excluded from adequate health coverage. The proposed EU agenda should therefore propose concrete actions on how to improve the situation for these people. In addition, EU health workforce planning could focus more on interdisciplinary teams including health promoters and health advocates linking with other policy sectors.
- Improving resilience – Health technology assessments should, as a standard procedure, include a ‘health equity lens’, assessing how new technology and innovation can actually contribute to reducing the health inequalities.
Obviously, these are just a few observations. EuroHealthNet will further discuss this EC Communication at the next General Council in June. This is important, as the ambition to arrive at sustainable health systems is now part of the overall EU 2020 policy cycle; it is mentioned in the Annual Growth Survey for 2014 and several EU member states have already received Country Specific Recommendations on their health service reforms. It is essential that EuroHealthNet’s members to not miss the debate and process.
In the meantime, we will continue to showcase how our members’ activities contribute to improved health, equity and wellbeing in Europe.
I hope you enjoy reading the contributions to this magazine.
Caroline Costongs is Director of EuroHealthNet.