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16th Nov 2018

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Health experts wary of commission reshuffle

  • Will health technology and pharmaceutical policy services fall under the Commission’s health directorate or the more lobby-friendly internal market directorate? (Photo: Gusset/Flickr)

Medical experts fear an organisational reshuffle in the European Commission will prioritise the economics of health care over patients' well-being, with significant implications for combating chronic diseases.

Incoming EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker moved the health technology and pharmaceutical policy services from the Commission’s health directorate to the more lobby-friendly internal market directorate.

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  • Norbert Lameire - the acting chair of the European Chronic Disease Alliance (Photo: ECDA)

The services of the European Medicines Agency is responsible for market authorisation of pharmaceutical products and would then respond to the internal market directories, with critics fearing this would mean more emphasis on money rather than on patients.

The move was so criticised by MEPs and NGOs that Juncker may move it back into the health portfolio or may opt to have the two directorates share responsibility for the EMA. A final decision has not yet been made.

One of the medical experts following the developments keenly is Norbert Lameire, the acting chair of the European Chronic Disease Alliance - a group representing over 100,000 health professionals across Europe.

“The European Union is primarily an economic union, but that is not the way that we meet our patients in the medical community,” he told this website.

"The original proposal of Juncker to move these issues of the agency and health technology to an economic DG could easily give the impression that economics come before health and before the well-being of the patient - something that we cannot accept," Lameire said.

"I hope that it will be reversed and that it will go back to where it belongs in DG Sanco where it was before," he said of the EMA.

“We are concerned that in particular the economic and cost issues would have an overwhelming impact on the management of acute and chronic diseases," Mr Lameire added.

At the same time, he makes the economic argument for acting to prevent chronic diseases, the incidence of which is now characterised by the World Health Organisation as an epidemic.

“We spend 97 percent of the total budget for chronic diseases alone on care and management and only three percent on prevention,” said Lameire. “This is an enormous discrepancy.”

Chronic diseases and how to deal with them are slowly coming to the political foreground as ageing populations and increased life expectancy mean health systems are being put under more and more pressure.

"We will never be able to eliminate chronic diseases, but we can reduce it. And we can cut the cost of care and the treatment of the chronic diseases at each level of healthcare in every country in Europe,” said Lameire.

Chronic diseases can often be prevented through dietary changes as well as cutting down on alcohol and smoking.

At the very least though, argues Lameirem the EU needs to be structured in how it deals with the problem.

“Unless we set targets we won't achieve much because we won't be aiming for anything,” he concluded.

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