The European Health Union: the asset to face the following ten years

June 2024
By Editorial Staff

“European health systems are set to face ten difficult years, with the growing needs of an ageing population, rising chronic diseases, shortages of medicines and medical devices, and retiring health workers straining our resources. The climate crisis and the rise of artificial intelligence further complicate the situation. To manage these challenges, Europe must step up. Over the past half year, EU health ministers have outlined an ambitious programme, aiming to reshape the European Health Union and ensure resilient, high-quality healthcare in all member states”. stated Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Health and Social Affairs, Frank Vandenbroucke. He foresees a quite difficult future for the EU.

The idea of the European Health Union

To keep health as one of the most important priorities and to encourage the Commission to follow this path were among the main concerns that emerged from the conclusions of the Council held on June 21st. The European Union has just experienced a rough path. As a matter of fact, it was during this time that the Commission first announced “The European Health Union” (EHU) in a press release in November 2020. The aim of the EHU is to facilitate closer cooperation among member states at the EU level on matters relating to health care, including a collective response to health crises at the EU level, the availability of affordable and innovative medical supplies, and better prevention, treatment, and aftercare for diseases such as cancer.

Let’s never forget that the press release arrived after the pandemic emergency; that’s why its priorities include addressing health workforce shortages. Member states and the Commission are encouraged to tackle these issues through investment, digital tools, knowledge sharing, cooperation at the EU level, and adapted regulatory frameworks. Additionally, the security of supply of medicines and medical devices, both of which were missing during the COVID-19 health emergency, is a priority.

The new European system

In order to keep track of new actions, the Council suggests setting up an independent, needs-evidenced database to help identify unmet health-related patient and societal needs. As next steps, the establishment of a voluntary, member-state-driven mechanism for evaluating and prioritizing such needs and the EU-level coordination of public support to address the most pressing health-related unmet needs could be considered. The Council also calls on member states and the Commission to strengthen action in priority areas by improving the EU’s implementation tools, including EU4Health, and developing new ones such as an EU health investment hub.

Furthermore, the Council’s conclusions highlight several areas needing further action. These include the prevention of non-communicable diseases, which account for nearly 90% of all deaths in the EU. The Council urges member states and the Commission to promote healthy lifestyles and environments by adopting the legislative proposals outlined in Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan and by enhancing efforts in the ‘Healthier Together’ initiative.

Similarly, actions in preparedness and communicable diseases should involve maintaining a focus on cross-border health threats, strengthening the fight against misinformation and disinformation, and improving the security of supply for essential medicines and medical devices.