10 things you should know about EU health politics

Helsinki, 16 October – This is a list based on Bad Gastein Health Policy Forum during the first week of October. It is not evidence-based. It is as subjective as its writer. But since doing lists is now fashionable, I will go mainstream. And what would you do without a hashtag nowadays? #EHFG2014

1. There is evidence-base for health policies. You should follow different expert groups that make policy recommendations. There is just recently nominated Cancer Expert Group. EU is unbelievably open about its scientific committees that usually work to form a basis for directives, http://ec.europa.eu/health/scientific_committees/index_en.htm – they have even daily RSS-feeds. Look for instance Schenir – the committee deals with emerging or newly-identified health and environmental risks. Check the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies http://www.euro.who.int/en/about-us/partners/observatory and its Eurohealth magazine online.

2. Be critical. You should follow the money. European Union has stakeholders. Usually it means industry, lobbying groups and obscure think thanks. Be suspicious, read Corporate Europe Observatory http://corporateeurope.org/.

3. Ebola tests professional ethics. News may create panic. Science journalists know better. It is a question of risk assessment and international development policies. In EU more people will die of alcohol, obesity and tobacco – but these old scares are not as exotic as the new ones. Read Wolfgang Goede´s excellent analysis from Bad Gastein here: https://www.eusja.org/no-silver-bullet-vs-ebolaeurope-safetrade-not-aid/

4. Undocumented immigrants. The development gap is inside the European Union. Health professionals know the problem but journalists should make more noise. Did you know that tuberculosis is coming back and in drug-resistant form? Did you know that many immigrants lack basic health care? Did you forget that you are an idealist and want a better world? This is one organisation you might want to follow: http://picum.org/en, Health Forum has a nice press release on its pages http://www.ehfg.org/1142.html

5. Cross-border directive. Should it work already? Nobody is sure. If you make a story, you should test it yourself. Do not believe what they say. It is a headache for everyone in the multi-language Union. Ever tried to explain to your doctor in France, Spain, Finland or Lithuania what is wrong with you? Try. It is hard. The official term is mobility of patients. When you see health as another industry, then customers should have the right to choose. But is health care sector just another industry? No. It employs a lot of people. Are patients just another group of customers? No.

6. Health Commissioner to be: Vytenis Andriukaitis from Lithuania. He will start his work on November 1st if everything goes as it should. If you interview him and he says his principles: promotion, prevention and protection – do not make a headline from this. He said it in Bad Gastein at least three times.

7. Patient safety. The biggest health threat to European citizens: their own unhealthy lifestyles. But you should not underestimate the power of infections. Italians are now holding EU presidency and taking a closer perspective to this. Around 8-10% of patients hospitilised suffer from lacks in patient safety – this means 4,1 million patients getting infections linked with health care and of which 37 000 will die. This is scarier than ebola.

8. Literacy to eHealth, mHealth. We would love to be digital. We know our kids will be. We will need to understand health and health science better. This is called health literacy. In the future we will need digital health literacy. EU is working on it. When researched in 8 EU countries, around half of the population had limited health literacy. What is health literacy? It is the capacity to make sound health decisions in the context of everyday life.

9, Diplomacy of health. Did you know that the World Health Organization and the European Union work together and even understand each other well. Times have changed, testified several experts in Bad Gastein in a session led by Ilona Kickbush from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies. Sylvain Giraud, @GiraudSylvain Head of Unit from EU tweeted: “EU member states speaking with one voice at WHO. Key role for EU Geneva delegation.” If interested in health politics, follow Kickbush @IlonaKickbusch and EPHA´s Emma Woodford @EmmaHoeilaart on Twitter.

10. Austerity. Europe is aging and its citizens need more health care and specialised services. This is why there is a pressure to budgets and need for austerity measures. Scott L. Greer @scottlgreer from University of Michigan was very critical about austerity policy and noted that taking a look into smoking rates and prevention could save more money. The commission has but up a mechanism which analyses health care expenditure in EU member countries. http://ec.europa.eu/europe2020/making-it-happen/index_en.htm