Building back healthier – a discussion on the future of Europe’s health systems

On 13 November, FTI Consulting Brussels, in collaboration with EU40, the network of young MEPs, organised a webinar on “How to create fit for future health systems in Europe?”. This discussion with policy-makers and healthcare stakeholders looked at how the EU is preparing for future cross-border threats with the goal of attaining resilient and sustainable health systems, and explored what is in store for the future of EU health policy.

The webinar featured representatives from the EU institutions and health authorities’ organisations. and was attended by representatives from patient groups, industry, trade and healthcare professional associations. The discussion was particularly timely, taking place in the aftermath of the publication of the European Commission Communication on a EU Health Union and the announcement of an agreement between the European Parliament and Council on an uplift to the new EU health programme (EU4Health).

Panellists welcomed the news on the EU budget for the EU health programme which has now been set at €5.1 billion. Despite the ‘roller coaster’ negotiations and the lower amount than had originally been proposed by the Commission, the EU4Health programme will provide a 13-fold increase in resources than previously existed. There was consensus in the virtual room that this agreement would provide substantial momentum behind the EU’s health ambitions. The EU institutions are now seeking to further define and finalise the programme by end of this year, so it can be up and running in January 2021.

There was broad agreement that the COVID-19 pandemic unveiled substantial weaknesses and inefficiencies within European health systems. Conversely, it has put healthcare high on the EU agenda and provided impetus to set up a European Union for health.

Discussion was also had on whether the time is right for a transformative EU healthcare agenda with several new initiatives currently being launched. This includes:

  1. The European Commission Expert Panel on Effective Ways of Investing in Health will soon issue its Opinion on the organisation of resilient health and social care following the COVID-19 pandemic. It will focus on the provision of healthcare for vulnerable groups and provide suggestions on how to improve the resilience of healthcare systems.
  2. The European Commission’s EU Health Union Communication, which addresses the need to provide a stronger cross border healthcare framework, along with tackling the fragmentation of actions which is said to undermine citizens’ trust.  This includes proposals to strengthen the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and extend the mandate of the European Medicines Agency (EMA); creating a  new EU Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority, using the US BARDA as a model.
  3. New measures in support of health systems will also be supported by a recovery and resilience facility, which is linked to the EU semester process (an initiative that provides a framework for the coordination of economic policies across the EU) and the need to support structural reforms.
  4. Other initiatives will focus on better information – seizing digital opportunities; more cooperation – not just exchanging best practices but integrating health systems – i.e. through telemedicine and addressing inequalities and access. Such initiatives will look at health in a more comprehensive way, tackling root causes – not the absence of disease, but the state of wellbeing. Resilience implies Europe need to keep recovering, but the future strategic focus is to prevent or be better prepared for future crises.

The panel exchanged on the need for an open and effective dialogue between the EU, national and regional level and stressed the importance of stakeholder involvement and contributions.

Author: Valeria Fagone, healthcare team at FTI Consulting Brussels

The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting, Inc., its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals.

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