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European Commission Chronic Diseases Summit

8 April 2014

On 3 & 4 April, the European Commission held the first ever Chronic Diseases Summit which aimed to bring together key stakeholders to generate recommendations about priority actions at EU level to tackle chronic diseases in Europe. Focusing on all aspects of the chronic diseases epidemic, the conference invited stakeholders to contribute ideas and actions for EU added value in this area.  In particular, there was a clear consensus from participants that a key factor in addressing chronic diseases is the re-organisation of care around the patient.  The conference also coincided with the publication of the European Commission Communication on effective, sustainable and resilient health systems, providing an overview of the foundations necessary to sustain health in Europe.

Opening the first day of the conference, John Ryan, Acting Director of DG Health and Consumers, gave an in-depth overview of the European Union ́s activities and policies to address chronic diseases and he pointed out the challenges chronic diseases pose to the sustainability of health systems. He invited all participants to help identify areas for future activities in order to launch a horizontal EU approach to chronic disease in the future.

The burden on health systems is immense and MEP Christel Schaldemose (S&D, Denmark), noted that 70 – 80% of health expenditure is spent on chronic diseases. She suggested that EU should allow bigger deficit on EU Member State budgets for investment in health prevention because “if we don`t spend it now, it will be more costly later on”.  Financing for health systems was addressed by Sinisa Varga, Director of the Croatian Health Insurance Fund. He declared that the cuts associated with the financial crisis will cause unnecessary costs in 10 – 15 years and suggested a new financing model based on pay for performance to increase efficiency in healthcare.

Discussing effective health policies for chronic diseases in the EU, Clive Needle, Director of EuroHealthNet suggested investing in education, training and health literacy. Like many other speakers and participants, he also highlighted that Member States must set up realistic, measurable, and smart targets to prevent and tackle chronic diseases.  Prevention was a key theme throughout the conference, echoed by a number of participants including Günter Danner, Director of the European Representation of the German Social Insurance (DE).  He added that the health and social security systems should have a primary interest in effective prevention. But, noted that prevention strategies can be effective without adding costs.  Patient representative Simon Gillespie, Chief Executive British Heart Foundation, again highlighted prevention as a key focus area for action saying that, “prevention is always better than care or cure”.

Following the first day of workshops, the second day was opened by the EU Commissioner for Health Tonio Borg.  He emphasised the European Commission ́s role in tackling chronic diseases and he encouraged dialogue on new ideas to innovate in more effective and sustainable ways in national health systems. He invited stakeholders and Member States to “be bold, be brave, and be creative” when addressing the challenge of chronic diseases.

Various EU Member States gave national perspectives on chronic disease prevention and management within health and social systems. James O’ Reilly, Minister of Health of Ireland discussed the advancement of patient-centred care in Ireland and suggested that care must be reoriented toward primary care.  He declared a need for “moving away from the episodic illness model, to a wellness service”. Minister O’Reilly reiterated that health is not a drain on budgets, but rather a driver of the economy and jobs and a healthy workforce is needed to have a healthy economy.

Giving an industry perspective on tackling the chronic disease epidemic, Joseph Jimenez, Chief Executive Officer at Novartis, maintained that health systems need to move from a transaction based approach to health, to an outcome based approach noting that incentives must exist to deliver these positive outcomes.  Building on the idea of an outcome based model for health, Zoran Stančič, Deputy Director-General at DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology, discussed how technology can improve the data and evidence of positive health outcomes since monitoring of chronic diseases can now be done monthly, weekly or even hourly.  Agreeing with Mr. Stancic, Brendan Barnes, Director for Societal Engagement and Partnerships at the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA), suggested that the “European Commission still needs to learn to love innovation a bit more” in order to utilise the full benefits of technology in healthcare.

Providing the Health First Europe perspective, Patron David Byrne summarised many of the key points raised during the conference including the significance of delivering efficient, patient-centred care to citizens before the development of chronic diseases.  He suggested that a framework for community care based on the HFE Model should be developed at EU level, emphasizing the role of the EU institutions in supporting Member States to facilitate care outside of acute settings.  He declared that the next Presidency of the Council should include an agenda item specific to community care so that Member States prioritise re-organisation of care towards the patient.

In his closing remarks, John Ryan asserted some of the key issues brought forward by stakeholders during the event. More than anything, Mr. Ryan suggested that to tackle this epidemic, strong political leadership is necessary with the broad involvement of civil society and stakeholders.  Commissioner Borg closed the conference by asking that we all continue to strive together to not only bring “more years to life, but more life to years” for all European citizens.

For more information about the conference, see the European Commission overview at Storify here.

For more information about the Health First Europe Community Care Model, click here.