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EU Public Health and Chronic Diseases

First ever EU Summit on Chronic Diseases

On April 3 and 4, the European Commission organised the first ever EU Summit on Chronic Diseases. The World Health Organisation estimates that chronic diseases are the leading cause of mortality in the European region, accounting for 86% of all deaths. The EU health systems annually spend 700 billion Euros on treating chronic diseases, which amounts to 70-80% of all healthcare costs in the EU. The need to tackle chronic diseases in Europe arose in 2010 when the Council called for a reflection process on chronic diseases to be carried out by the Commission and the Member States. The results of this process, to which EFA contributed , highlighted the necessity to focus on prevention and health promotion, and disease management with an emphasis on patient empowerment.

As a follow-up, the Commission organised the EU Summit on Chronic diseases that gathered around 450 representatives of Member States, non-governmental organisations and other relevant stakeholders, professional groups, business operators, academics, and EU institutions in Brussels. EFA was represented by our President and by EU Policy Advisor Roberta Savli. We disseminated our Manifesto among policy-makers and personally handed it to two of the Health Ministers present at the event, the Irish James Reilly and the Italian Beatrice Lorenzin. All key speakers, including several Ministers, EU officials, Members of the European Parliament, Health Commissioner Tonio Borg, representatives of the World Health Organisation and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, emphasised the need invest in prevention, improve access to quality treatment for all in Europe and develop a comprehensive strategy to limit the negative consequences of chronic diseases on healthcare systems, society and patients themselves.

The conclusions of the summit have identified the following priorities to address chronic diseases in Europe: implementing “health in all policies” with a special focus on prevention measures, promoting citizens and patients empowerment and participation in health-related decision-making processes, as well as reducing inequalities in health systems, using new technologies in research, information collection and dissemination. A holistic and integrated approach has been recognised as the way forward for the healthcare systems in Europe. The need to have an EU strategy to tackle the incidence and burden of chronic diseases is one of EFA’s key requests and was underlined by our President Breda Flood during the conference, as well as in our Manifesto for European Parliament elections 2014. We believe that such a strategy should include diseases specific best practices already adopted by some Member States.

Presentations and broadcasts are available here. A short summary of the event can be also found here.

The fight against chronic conditions is particularly important for EFA as asthma and allergy are the most common chronic diseases amongst children. Asthma affects 30 million people in Europe, with 6 million of these people suffering from severe asthma forms. It is estimated that 1 in every 2 Europeans will suffer from an allergy by 2015. COPD is a progressive disease that affects 44 million people in Europe and it is expected to be the 3rd leading cause of death by 2030.

Communication on effective, accessible and resilient health systems

During the first EU Summit on Chronic Diseases (3-4 April) there was a clear consensus among participants that a key factor in addressing chronic diseases is the re-organisation of care around the patient. The summit also coincided with the publication of the European Commission Communication on effective, sustainable and resilient health systems.

The journey towards the Communication development has started in 2006, when Member States agreed on common values and principles of the health systems of the EU. This was followed by the adoption of the Directive on patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare and the establishment of an EU-level reflection process to help members provide modern, responsive and sustainable health systems. Finally, in 2014 the Annual Growth Survey emphasised the need to improve the efficiency, financial sustainability and effectiveness of healthcare systems, to reach the objective of building competitiveness and growth. It was recognised that healthcare sector is crucial in tackling the social consequences of the economic crisis.

The Communication on effective, sustainable and resilient health system is aimed to provide an overview of the foundations necessary to diminish inequalities and to increase cooperation between Member States, as well as to provide them with guidance on possible actions to improve the health systems and to show what the EU is doing to assist them in creation of effective, accessible and resilient health systems.

Green Paper on Mobile Health

On 10 April, the European Commission presented a Green paper on mobile Health. Mobile health (mHealth) is defined as “medical and public health practice supported by mobile devices, such as mobile phones, patient monitoring devices, personal digital assistants (PDAs), and other wireless devices”.

The Commission considers mHealth as a potential tool for tackling new challenges such as an ageing population and increased budgetary pressure. It is seen as a preventive measure contributing to a more efficient and sustainable healthcare, as well as empowering patients to control their health. There are already almost 100,000 mobile health applications and it is estimated that by 2017, 3.4 billion people will use smartphones, half of them having mHealth apps. This has the great potential of contributing to early diagnosis and patient’s empowerment, as well as saving 30% of healthcare professionals time currently spent in analyzing and assessing health information.

On the one hand, the rapid development of mobile devices and wireless connections favors the realisation of mHealth solutions. On the other hand, such a growth raises concerns about the ways data collected is processed through apps or solutions by individuals, app developers, health professionals, advertising companies, public authorities etc. Therefore, the legislation on data protection must be significantly strengthened in order to fully enjoy the opportunities offered by the mHealth.

Keen to unveil other potential barriers related to the use of mHealth, the Commission has launched a public consultation on the Green paper for all interested stakeholders. The consultation is open until the 3rd July, 2014. To provide your input please visit: http://bit.ly/1ixLdCS. EFA will respond and we will keep you posted on the latest developments.

Adoption of the Report on Medical Devices

On 2 April, the European Parliament finally adopted the report on Medical Devices. The Parliament agreed on stricter monitoring and certification procedures to ensure full compliance and traceability of medical devices. The proposed legislation seeks to increase patient safety and to strengthen traceability from producer to patient, without creating additional burdens for innovative small manufacturers. The newly elected MEPs will continue to work on this legislation.

EFA has been advocating for increased patients’ involvement in all decisions influencing their health, greater transparency and improved patients’ safety. For more information see our briefing on the topic. We are glad to see that most of our requests were taken on board by the Parliament and we hope that the new MEPs and especially the Council will quickly move forward in this dossier that is crucial for the health of patients in Europe. Devices such as medical oxygen containers, inhalers or adrenaline auto-injectors are essential for millions of patients with allergies and respiratory diseases.

Safety and efficacy of these devices, and future innovative ones, thus have to be fully guaranteed and further enhanced, because they can increase life expectancy, improve quality of life and empower patients to better manage their disease.

New EU Clinical Trials Regulation

On 2 April, the Parliament voted on the European Commission proposal to increase transparency and harmonisation of Europe’s clinical trials on medicines. Under the new legislation that will be effective in 2016, all past and future clinical trials will need to be registered and their results reported. Pharmaceutical companies and academic researchers will have to post the results of all European clinical trials in a publicly-accessible database. These new rules will make it easier for companies and academics to share information about new medicines across borders.

The regulation is now ready for formal adoption by the European Union Council and moves from the European level to enter the implementation phase at Member State level, once it has been published in the EU’s Official Journal. EFA shares EPF position on this topic and especially we regret the lack of meaningful patients’ involvement, especially as regards ethics committees.

Approval of second Innovative Medicines Initiative

During its last plenary session on 17 April, the European Parliament approved the second Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI2), a research programme jointly ran by the EC and the pharmaceutical industry.

The second initiative is expected to be especially relevant in the upcoming years due to an ageing European population and rising levels of chronic diseases. IMI2 will have a budget of over 3 billion Euros and focuses on the development of treatments contributing to lifelong health and wellbeing.

Third Health Programme

The Third Health Programme for the period 2014-2020 was adopted in Brussels on 11 April. The Programme is built on experience of the previous two EU programmes for Health (2003-2008 and 2008-2013), and it will become the main tool to support the implementation of EU legislation on health during the coming years, as well as to finance projects and not-for-profit organisations in the field of health. The health programme allocation has increased by almost 30% when compared with the previous programme (in total, 449.5 million Euros for the period 2014-2020).

The programme includes the following main priorities:

(1) Health promotion, diseases prevention, implementation of “health in all policies” principle. This priority is in particular relevant for EFA activities, as it emphasises the importance of preventive measures such as control of tobacco marketing and advertising, as well as full implementation and control of tobacco-related legislation.

(2) Protection from serious cross-border health threats. Although this thematic will mainly tackle communicable diseases, the fact that the EU includes environment and climate change as a cause for cross-border health threats is a positive policy development. Indeed, environmental factors, in particular air quality, have direct link to the incidence of diseases such as asthma and COPD, and to the worsening of their and allergy’s symptoms.

(3) Contribution to innovative, efficient and sustainable health systems. The programme will support themes affecting an ageing society through innovation in awareness, prevention and early diagnosis, care and innovation in active ageing and independent living. A special attention is also paid to the development of legislation on medical devices and medicinal products.

(4) Facilitation of access to better and safer healthcare for Union citizens. The programme aims at strengthening collaboration on patient safety and quality of healthcare and will support the establishment of European reference networks for patients.

The work plan for the implementation of this programme with the further information on the support provision is expected to be published in May 2014.

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