New EU programme EU4Health aims to strengthen Europe’s health systems to respond better to future major cross-border crises, such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Covid-19 outbreak has shown the need for EU countries to better cooperate and coordinate in times of crisis and to strengthen the EU’s capacity to respond effectively to new cross-border health threats.
Drawing on the lessons learnt, a new EU health programme named EU4Health aims to fill the gaps revealed by the pandemic. Member states are primarily competent for health policy, but the EU can complement and support national measures and adopt legislation in specific sectors.
Besides better protection against and management of crises by strengthening member states’ health systems and delivering better care, the EU4Health programme also aims to improve health and foster innovation and investment.
- Protection of people from serious cross-border health threats
- Improved availability of medicines
- Stronger health systems
EU4Health is part of the Next Generation EU recovery plan.
On 13 November, the Parliament adopted its position on the new EU health programme. MEPs called for a European Health Response Mechanism to boost cooperation at EU level in times of crisis, a European monitoring system for shortages of medicines and medical devices, greater focus on disease prevention and digitalisation through a European eHealth Record.
In the provisional agreement on the EU’s budget for 2021-2027 reached on 10 November, Parliament’s team negotiated an increase in the budget for this programme to €5.1 billion from €1.7 billion proposed by the member states.
Parliament and Council now need to negotiate the final rules, so that the programme can be implemented from the beginning of 2021.
The programme will cover the 2021-2027 period, but all measures relating to the post crisis recovery are set to be applied in the first years.
What has the Commission proposed?
Tackling cross-border health threats
The programme aims to strengthen prevention, preparedness, surveillance and response in crisis times and improve coordination of emergency capacity. It aims to build reserves of medicines and medical supplies, healthcare staff and experts and provide technical assistance.
RescEU, which is part of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, will continue to provide rapid reaction and focus on direct crisis response capacities, while EU4Health would include strategic medical stockpiles for longer-term use and a reserve of medical staff who could be mobilised in case of a crisis.
Making medicines and medical supplies available and affordable
The EU wants to support efforts to monitor shortages of medicines, medical devices and other healthcare products relevant in a crisis and limit the dependency on imports of medicines and active pharmaceutical ingredients from non-EU countries. It also aims to boost innovation and more environmentally friendly production.
Strengthen health systems and healthcare workforce
National health systems should become more efficient and resilient by: boosting investment in disease prevention programmes; supporting the exchange of best practices; global cooperation; and improving access to health care
- EU4Health builds upon the one health approach
- It recognises that human and animal health are interconnected, that diseases may be transmitted from humans to animals and vice versa and must therefore be tackled in both; and that the environment links humans and animals.
Tackling long-term challenges
Among the other issues EU4Health aims to address are:
- Providing affordable good quality healthcare to all, by removing health inequalities
- Scaling up the use of digital innovations
- Tackling non-communicable diseases by improving diagnosis, prevention and care, in particular cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, mental health (the goal is to reduce premature mortality by one third by 2030)
- Advocating the prudent use of antibiotics and fighting antimicrobial resistance
- Improving vaccination coverage rates in member states
- Expanding successful initiatives, such as the European Reference Networks connecting healthcare professionals to support patients affected by rare diseases
- Tackling the impact of environmental pollution and demographic changes, including an ageing population, on public health
- Tailor made support and advice to countries
- Training for healthcare professionals for deployment across the EU
- Audits of member states’ preparedness and response arrangements
- Clinical trials to speed up the development of medicines and vaccines
- Cross-border collaboration and partnerships
- Conducting studies, data collection and benchmarking
Further investment in health will be provided through other EU programmes including the European regional development and cohesion funds for medical infrastructure, Horizon Europe for health research and innovation, ESF+ for training and support for vulnerable groups in accessing healthcare.
Parliament is asking for a European Health Union
In a resolution adopted on 10 July, Parliament set out its principles for a post Covid EU health strategy. MEPs again stressed the need to draw the right lessons from the coronavirus pandemic, calling for a European Health Union with stronger tools to deal with future health emergencies.
On 11 November, the Commission presented a set of proposals for creating a European Health Union, These include strengthening the EU’s crisis management to cope with serious cross-border health threats and stronger mandates for the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and the European Medicines Agency.
Parliament had consistently promoted the establishment of a coherent EU public health policy. In a resolution adopted on 17 April, Parliament also called for a dedicated budget to support national healthcare sectors during the crisis, as well as for investment post-crisis to make health-care systems more resilient and focused on those most in need.