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Health Brief: Why the EU should care…

Health Brief: Why the EU should care…

First reactions to the European care strategy, recently unveiled by the Commission, hint at the fact that the EU should care more about their care workers.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s annual State of the Union address, given on Wednesday (14 September), was light on health policy. There was barely any mention of what is in the Commission’s pipeline for the health agenda – aside from a vague endorsement of a “comprehensive approach to mental health.”

This marks a significant change from last year’s address – presented in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic – which was largely health-focused. One of the initiatives – the European care strategy – announced last year in Strasbourg by the Commission president, was ultimately delivered last week, on 7 September.

The strategy aims to aid member states in improving their care systems and designing their policies in this sector.

“There is a lot of private investment in care, which is needed by the way because, otherwise, there would be problems in terms of availability,” said Commissioner for Social Rights Nicolas Schmitt at the presentation of the strategy.

“But this means also that wherever and whoever invests in care has to respect very strong quality standards,” he added.

The strategy proposes to revise some targets that were set in 2002, in particular, regarding participation rates in early childhood education and care. The target, to be achieved by 2030, increased from 33% to at least 50% for children under three years of age.

“The proposal is not just about numerical targets: we include also comprehensive policy guidance to member states,” said equality Commissioner Helena Dalli.

Another key element of the strategy is the exchange of good practices and innovative models between member states.

“We all know that care is mainly a national responsibility. But I think that the union can have a very important contribution,” said Schmitt.

To this end, the strategy deals with the horizontal dimension: member states are expected to appoint national long-term care coordinators to organise and coordinate care policies across their countries.

“We will continue to support member states to reach these new targets and implement these recommendations, including through existing EU funding, capacity building and monitoring,” concluded Dalli.

The first reactions to the strategy were overall positive, with the caveat that there should have been more emphasis on the role of carers.

MEPs expressed their views on the strategy last July when they presented an own-initiative report calling on the Commission and the EU governments to define a legislative framework to better regulate the working conditions of care workers and make the profession more attractive.

The lawmakers recommended that member states facilitate training for both formal and informal carers to combat violence and harassment in the care sector.

At the time, the rapporteurs of the Parliamentary initiative were Finnish centre-right MEP Sirpa Pietikäinen and Slovenian socialist Milan Brglez, from both the women’s Rights (FEMM) and employment committees (EMP).

They were both contacted by EURACTIV to share their first thoughts on the Commission’s strategy.

“The Commission acknowledges that there is no good quality care if the working conditions are not in order and if the staff is not motivated and well-being,” Pietikäinen told EURACTIV.

According to her, the Commission’s proposal takes into account, for example, the transition to community-based care, better consideration of the personal needs of the care recipients and caregivers, elderly-friendly living environments and respect for the self-determination of those being cared for.

“There are a lot of good things here. The strategy is definitely a step forward in a way that we talk about care together at the EU level,” she said.

However, she added that the support for informal carers is weak in the Commission’s proposal, while it was one of the main points in the Parliament’s initiative.

“The Parliament wanted a lot more ambition to supporting informal care, but that is not yet visible in this proposal,” she concluded.

Likewise, co-rapporteur Brglez welcomed the presentation, saying that it demonstrates that the Commission, Parliament and stakeholders have finally started speaking the same language when it comes to recognising the right to care and care as a public good.

“It is clear, however, that the level of our ambition still differs significantly,” she said, mentioning that the Parliament’s position sees the care strategy only as a first step towards a European Care Deal.

For Brglez, this overarching initiative should entail a set of policies, programmes, recommendations and investments at the EU level to allow a transition towards a gender-transformative care economy and recognise care as a right and the backbone of our society.

By Gerardo Fortuna and Clara Bauer-Babef

 

Subscribe to EURACTIV’s Health Brief, where you’ll find the latest roundup of news covering health from across Europe. The Health Brief is brought to you by EURACTIV’s Health Team Giedrė Peseckytė, Clara Bauer-Babef, Amalie Holmgaard Mersh, and Gerardo Fortuna.

European Health Data Space. Despite the initial decision to assign the European Health Data Space exclusively to the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee (LIBE), it has now been agreed that the committee for health (ENVI) will co-lead the file. Chair of the LIBE committee, Juan Fernando López Aguilar, said that the decision was made after ENVI objected to the initial committee allocation.

Euthanasia. French President Emmanuel Macron presented on Tuesday (13 September) a plan for a six-month citizen consultation on euthanasia, with stakeholders confident he is ready to move forward on the issue.

Mental health. Tuesday (13 September) European lawmakers voted in favour of a non-binding report calling for increased spending on education and culture in order to combat the decline in the mental health of children and young people.

Ageing staff in healthcare systems. All countries of the WHO European Region currently face severe challenges related to the health and care workforce (‎HCWF)‎, with mental health issues and ageing causing most concern.

COVID-19

Lessons from vaccine procurement. Most COVID-19 vaccine contracts signed by the European Commission lacked specific provisions to address supply disruptions, and procurement processes could have been more scrutinised, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) found in a new report released Monday (12 September).

Adapted vaccines. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) on Monday (12 September) recommended the authorisation of an adapted bivalent vaccine targeting the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 in addition to the original strain of SARS-CoV-2 as a booster shot.

Long COVID. At least 17 million people in the WHO European Region experienced long COVID in the first two years of the pandemic, new modelling conducted for WHO/Europe by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine in the United States showed. Moreover, millions may have to live with it for years to come. “This data highlights the urgent need for more analysis, more investment, more support, and more solidarity with those who experience this condition,” said Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, speaking at the 72nd WHO Regional Committee for Europe, taking place in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Informal meeting of health ministers

Tuesday and Wednesday (September 6-7) EU health ministers met for an informal EPSCO in Prague.

While the meeting did not result in any groundbreaking decisions, they did discuss some of the most pressing health issues.

Regarding Ukraine, they talked about further supporting healthcare systems, improving the medical transfer systems and combating antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in Ukrainian hospitals.

On COVID-19 and the EU vaccine strategy, the first ministerial-level board meeting of the Health Emergency and Response Authority (HERA) was held, with the participation of representatives from pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna. Here the adapted vaccines were also discussed, following the recent recommendations for approval by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

Another big topic on the agenda was delivering the promises in Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. In particular, the upcoming proposal of a new Council Recommendation on Cancer Screening, will be presented by the Commission on September 21.

Cervical cancer

WHO/Europe on Tuesday (13 September) asked its 53 Member States, from across Europe and Central Asia, to endorse a roadmap to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem in the Region.

Each year in the WHO European Region more than 66,000 women are newly diagnosed with cervical cancer and more than 30,000 die from this preventable disease. It mostly impacts women aged 45–60, but also younger women.

Across the Region, the proportion of invasive cervical cancer cases detected at an early stage varies considerably from 35% to over 80% depending on the country. Five-year survival rates range from 54% to 80%.

Nino Berdzuli, Director of Country Health Programmes at WHO/Europe said: “We have the knowledge and tools, but we need stronger and more consistent commitments to make elimination possible across our region.”

WARSAW

Polish doctors charged with manslaughter after fearing terminating pregnancy. The public prosecutor’s office has brought charges against three doctors who did not terminate a 30-year-old patient’s defective pregnancy for fear of breaching the country’s strict abortion laws, which resulted in her death. By Bartosz Sieniawski | EURACTIV.pl

PRAGUE

Czechia, mulling cannabis decriminalisation, calls for joint EU action. Czech National Anti-drug Coordinator Jindřich Vobořil wants to strictly regulate the Czech cannabis market as cannabis sales should be decriminalised and regulated at the European level. By Aneta Zachová | EURACTIV.cz

LISBON

Portuguese president swears in new health minister in a short ceremony. President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa swore in new Health Minister Manuel Pizarro at the Palácio de Belém on Saturday. By Ana Raquel Lopes | Lusa.pt

12-15 September | European Parliament Plenary

15 September | HealthBio 2022 Partnering Event

16 September | Working Party on Public Health of the EU Council

17 September | World Patient Safety Day

21 September | Presentation of the Council Recommendation on Cancer Screening

21 September | From unmet medical needs to solutions, conference organised by EFPIA

21 September | INNOVEIT Paris – Creating resilient innovation ecosystems for Europe in health

21-23 September | Meetings with the heads of medicines agencies

22 September | Sustainable Nordic Healthcare Webinar

26-29 September | European Health Forum Gastein

4-5 Oktober | 4th Digital Health Society Summit

6-7 October | 18th Biosimilar Medicines Conference: Translating the Pharmaceutical Legislation  into Access & Affordability

15-19 October | 35th Annual Congress of the European Association of Nuclear Medicine

26 October | FEAM Annual Lecture on Digital Health and AI: Benefits and Costs of Data Sharing in the EU

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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