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21st Apr 2019

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The EU cannot let its patients down

  • Juncker's "Future of Europe" speech on 5 March has left many public health observers in despair. (Photo: Helena Spongenberg)

In rather tumultuous times for the European Union, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker presented scenarios for the Future of Europe on 5 March.

Highly anticipated as one of the attempts to give the EU a much-needed new impulse, the document left many public health observers in despair.

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  • Nicola Bedlington, EPF Secretary General. The Universal Health Coverage For All campaign, launched on 27 February at the European Parliament in Brussels, aims to raise awareness about the barriers patients face in accessing healthcare. (Photo: European Patients Forum)

The only explicit mention of public health lies in scenario 4: "Doing less more efficiently", which follows a trend of downplaying the importance of a European public health policy.

Furthermore, the 'Health in All Policies' approach - the recognition of health as an integral part of most major EU strategic initiatives - have been put on the back burner.

Setting the tone

We at the European Patients' Forum (EPF) believe, on the contrary, that the EU must set the tone for public health policies more than ever and be a beacon of patient-centred healthcare reforms for member states and local governments.

The current debate on access to healthcare is a prime example of where there is a need for substantial and coordinated action from the EU institutions.

We welcome the strong call by the European Parliament and its recent report for member states and the European Commission to develop measures that ensure affordable access to medicine for patients.

EPF's 2016 paper on the pricing and reimbursement of innovative medicines recommends the set-up of a broad framework for fair access - including the exploration of different measures to control prices, such as horizon scanning, early dialogue and real-world data collection.

Affordable and available

Affordability and availability go hand-in-hand - affordable medicines are of no use if they are not available to patients when they need them.

We ask the commission and member states to identify or develop appropriate frameworks and methodologies to meaningfully incorporate patient evidence at all stages of the medicine research-and-development (R&D) cycle as well as decisions on access and availability – from early dialogue and regulatory approval to health technology assessment (HTA), relative effectiveness assessment and pricing, and reimbursement decision-making – with the involvement of patients and their representative organisations.

Only a collaborative and holistic approach can bring sustainable solutions.

The European Parliament and its 751 members have a large role to play here. As the democratically elected representatives of EU citizens, MEPs can legitimately hold the commission and member states accountable for their actions, or lack thereof in the field of public health.

This is the reason why EPF is proud to count on five high-profile MEPs to champion its newest campaign on Universal Health Coverage for All.

Universal health coverage by 2030

MEPs Miriam Dalli (S&D, Malta), Kateřina Konecna (GUE/NGL, Czech Republic), Andrey Kovatchev (EPP, Bulgaria), Sirpa Pietikaainen (EPP, Finland) and Paul Ruebig (EPP, Austria) will be fighting alongside our campaign, which calls for more EU co-operation in the framework of the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on health.

From the patients' perspective, the SDG represent a key opportunity to achieve universal health coverage by 2030.

More importantly, the specific health goal is essential to fulfil other health and well-being objectives - such as reducing premature mortality from communicable and non-communicable diseases.

The five MEPs will ensure that the European Parliament sends a wake-up call to the EU and the member states, who have all committed to implement the agenda on sustainable development.

The current situation is untenable from a patient perspective and unsustainable for health systems. Patients are facing unacceptable barriers to healthcare services, resulting in aggravated health conditions and financial situations.

We need transformative measures that take into account recommendations from all relevant stakeholders.

As EPF Secretary General, Nicola Bedlington points out, "At the end of the day, ensuring universal access to medicines is a political choice. We urge decision-makers both at European and national levels to take positive action to show they put patients' needs first, and that the European Union's core values of equity and solidarity are not mere rhetoric but a real political priority."

Nicola Bedlington is the secretary general of the European Patients' Forum (EPF), an umbrella organisation that works with patients' groups in public health and health advocacy across Europe. Its 67 members represent specific chronic disease groups at EU level or are national coalitions of patients. EPF reflects the voice of an estimated 150 million patients affected by various chronic diseases throughout Europe.

Disclaimer: This article is sponsored by a third party. All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author and not of EUobserver.

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