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New European alliance launches campaign: EU debate on healthcare must focus on patient needs!

17 March 2004

Brussels, 17 March 2004, The creation of a new alliance - Health First Europe – was announced today by organisations representing patients, healthcare workers, academics, experts and the medical technology industry. Health First Europe will launch a awareness campaign in 2004 to encourage reflection and dialogue on the future of healthcare in Europe at a time of demographic and technological revolution.

The primary aim of the new alliance will be to ensure that equitable access to modern, innovative and reliable medical technology and healthcare is regarded as a vital investment in the future of Europe. Health First Europe calls for a truly patient-centred healthcare where every European citizen is able to benefit from the best medical treatments available. In addition, alliance members believe that health should also be seen as a productive economic factor in terms of employment, innovation and economic growth.

The website of Health First Europe, www.healthfirsteurope.org, will play an important part in the dissemination of information to the general public, policy makers and the media. A short film introducing Health First Europe is also available on the website.

On the occasion of the launch of Health First Europe, various members and supporters commented on a number of the key objectives and views of the new alliance:

Equitable Access – Reflecting on how equitable patient and clinical access to modern, innovative and reliable medical technology and healthcare should be regarded as a vital investment in the future of Europe, Albert van der Zeijden, Chairman of the International Alliance of Patients’ Organisations (IAPO), said “Scarce resources within the field of healthcare, an ageing population, an enlarged Europe, the emergence of new treatments, and of course “bed blocking” in some countries - will mean that we shall need to be creative and that we will need to seek ways to provide efficient healthcare without lowering the standard of care. We must ensure that access to, and availability of, the most effective treatments and medical devices are made available to all patients”.

Rethinking Healthcare - Health First Europe members believe that there are certain weaknesses in European healthcare systems today and that a rethink is required in order to meet current and future health challenges. John Bowis, Member of the European Parliament (EPP, UK), a former UK Minister for Health and one of the European Parliament supporters of Health First Europe, added: “The set-up of Health First Europe comes at a time when both patients, the medical profession and industry as well as relevant authorities must look at how Europe will maintain the healthcare provisions that citizens have come to expect. For example, the greying of the European population and the rapid progression of medical innovation pose a number of important challenges and opportunities today. In order to meet these challenges, a rethink of European healthcare systems is required“.

Health = Wealth - Healthcare is all too often seen as a burden on public finances. Health First Europe believes that the opposite is true - in fact, one can argue that “Health = Wealth”. Reflecting on the economic impacts of healthcare, Prof. Dr. Dr.h.c. Felix Unger, President of the European Institute of Medicine, commented: “Healthcare is still all too often considered as a drain on public finances, as a “bottomless pit”. Yet healthcare is a key economic factor in terms of employment, innovation and economic growth. A healthy society is an indispensable prerequisite of a flourishing and wealthy society. Sustainable improvement to healthcare leads to an increase of human capital as a source of wealth. Effective healthcare is therefore essential to maintaining and improving the quality of life and economic growth”.

Adequate Funding - Barry Wilson, chairman of the board of the European Medical Technology Industry Association (Eucomed), explains, “New life saving breakthrough therapies in medical technology are delayed in their availability to patients across Europe due to inadequate funding and reimbursement. The fundamental issues remain the low percentage of GDP spent on healthcare and the way that healthcare resources are allocated. In defining their economic priorities, the EU Member States should focus more on the needs of their ageing populations. European citizens want and need better access to life saving and life enhancing medical technology”.

Creative Thinking - As Europeans live longer, the burden of chronic disease is constantly increasing. Homecare and self-care for example can help to reduce the need for hospitalisation and can contribute to building new and more flexible modes of healthcare delivery. Representing the interests of European doctors within Health First Europe, Dr. Vincenzo Costigliola, President of the European Medical Association (EMA), commented: “The approach to healthcare in Europe must change from one of reactive response to one of active promotion of good health. This implies a break with the traditional structures of health-care provision to allow the design of new systems, individually tailored to the needs of each patient".

In 2004, Health First Europe plans to host a number of high profile events with the aim of further advancing the European healthcare debate. These events will include a ‘medical devices of the future’ exhibition in the European Parliament in Brussels. Efforts will also be focused on a number of international awareness days, such as world Parkinson’s day, through partnerships with related organisations to draw attention to patient’s needs and to the technologies and solutions available.

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