Why an EU Health Strategy?
In 2007 the EU Health Strategy – “Together for Health” was adopted. While this health strategy was initially developed for the period 2008 – 2013, the principles and objectives as defined in the strategy remain valid to this day and are aligned with the overall Europe 2020 strategy.
The health strategy emphasises the importance of acting as a European Community in areas where member states cannot act alone effectively and where collective action is necessary. Certain health threats – such as pandemics and bioterrorism – transcend the borders of member states and require collective preparedness and action. Furthermore, the free movement of goods, services and people within the EU necessitates a joint approach in safeguarding health and quality standards across Europe.
The EU health strategy complements national health policies in accordance with Article 168 of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union. The health strategy was developed in 2007 due to several growing challenges to the health of EU citizens.
Summary of the EU Health Strategy – Together for Health
The “EU Health Strategy – Together for Health” presents the main challenges pertaining to health in the EU. The strategy proposes four core principles and three strategic objectives as a focus of attention for the coming years.
Challenges for the European Community
- Challenge 1 – Population ageing: As the European population ages, disease patterns change and the strain on health systems increases.
- Challenge 2 – Threats to health: Climate change brings forth new communicable disease patterns. Pandemics, physical and biological incidents and bioterrorism all pose serious threats to population health.
- Challenge 3 – New technologies: Digitalisation and new and revolutionary technologies contribute to drastic evolutions in healthcare systems. While innovations in ICT, genomics, biotechnology and nanotechnology show great promise for health and healthcare, they also prompt debate and require critical evaluation in terms of safety, ethics, sustainability and equity.
Principles for European Community action on health
- Principle 1 – Shared health values:
- Universality: No-one is barred access to healthcare.
- Access to good quality care
- Equity: Equal access according to need, regardless of ethnicity, gender, age, social status or ability to pay.
- Solidarity: Financial arrangements within the national health system ensure accessibility of healthcare for everyone.
- Citizen’s empowerment: Health policy should ensure health literacy amongst citizens. Patients should participate and exert influence in the healthcare decision-making process.
- Reduction of health inequities: Targeted health promotion and best practice exchange should reduce health inequities across the EU.
- Scientific evidence: Health policy must be based on the best scientific evidence.
- Principle 2 – Health is the greatest wealth: Health is not only important for the wellbeing of individuals and society, but health is also a prerequisite for economic prosperity. Spending on healthcare should not be seen merely as a cost, but rather as an investment; efficient spending on health can promote growth.
- Principle 3 – Health in all policies: Many policy domains besides health policy have a direct or indirect impact on population health. Examples are regional and environment policies, social security schemes, tobacco taxation, pharmaceutical and food regulations, animal health policies, health and safety regulations at work, trade and import policies, and research and innovation initiatives. To safeguard and improve population health, synergies and collaborations need to be established with other sectors and actors.
- Principle 4 – Strengthening the EU’s voice in global health: In a globalised world it is unavoidable that global policy influences population health. By acting as a unified front, the European Community can contribute to global health by sharing its values, experience and expertise, and by taking concrete and decisive action towards health improvement.
- Objective 1 – Fostering good health in an ageing Europe: Healthy ageing should be facilitated through active efforts to promote health and prevent disease. Healthy lifestyles should be stimulated, while harmful behaviours should be mitigated. Risk factors that need to be addressed throughout the lifespan include poor nutrition, sedentary lifestyles, alcohol, drug and tobacco intake, environmental health hazards, traffic accidents and accidents at home.
- Objective 2 – Protecting citizens from health threats: The European Community is involved in scientific risk assessments, preparedness and response to epidemics and bioterrorism. Community action furthermore facilitates the development of strategies to reduce the risks from specific diseases, accidents and injuries. Improving work safety standards and setting standards for food safety and consumer protection are also a responsibility of the European Community.
- Objective 3 – Supporting dynamic health systems and new technologies: New technologies – such as eHealth, genomics and biotechnologies – show great potential to revolutionise healthcare and health systems. The European Commission should be involved in properly evaluating new technologies in terms of cost-effectiveness, safety, ethics, confidentiality and equity. The European Community should support dynamic and sustainable health systems by developing facilitating frameworks and by providing clarity on how EU law affects development and implementation of new technologies.
The white paper “Together for Health: A Strategic Approach for the EU 2008-2013” provides more detailed information on the various challenges, principles and objectives of the health strategy. It furthermore provides more information on the implementation of the strategy.
Investing in Health – A complementary strategy
The European Commission published a Commission Staff Working document called ‘Investing in Health’ in February 2013, as part of the Social Investment Package for growth and cohesion, and in accordance with the general Europe 2020 strategy. This document shows how investing in health contributes to the Europe 2020 objective of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. It furthermore can be seen as an addition to the EU Health Strategy – Together for Health. Within the Commission Staff Working document, the European Commission emphasises the need for structural policy reforms and continued investments in sustainable health systems. Value for money has become a crucial component in the healthcare debate; smarter spending, not more spending. Investing in human capital is seen as a pivotal step in improving population health and economic growth. Furthermore, additional investments to reduce health inequalities are proposed, as well as usage of European funds for investing in health.