EU Council of Ministers: An effective health policy provides foundation for economy of wellbeing
The health aspects of the economy of wellbeing, better access to medicines and the EU’s role and priorities in global health cooperation were the main topics of the meeting of EU health ministers on 9 December. The meeting was chaired by Krista Kiuru, Finland’s Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services.
Mental health, ageing and digitalisation all linked to the economy of wellbeing
The health ministers discussed practical ways to promote people’s health and wellbeing from an economy of wellbeing perspective. The discussion was based on the policy recommendations in the conclusions on the economy of wellbeing adopted in October by the Council presided by Finland. The economy of wellbeing entails a mutually supportive interdependence between people's wellbeing and the economy. Investing in people's wellbeing means putting the economy on a sustainable footing and strengthening the stability of society. The topic was addressed via three themes with an intrinsic link to the economy of wellbeing: mental health, ageing and digitalisation.
In the course of the discussion on mental health, the Member States presented to the new Commission their views on what the EU’s future cross-sectoral mental health strategy should look like. The health ministers pointed out that merely treating mental health disorders is not sufficient to ensure the wellbeing of the people. The objectives listed in the Council conclusions on the economy of wellbeing received broad support. These include the promotion of mental health, the prevention and early detection of problems, timely and effective treatment, and the destigmatisation of mental disorders.
The ministers stressed that anticipating changes in Europe’s ageing and demographic development is a prerequisite for successful policies across all sectors. Social and digital innovation must be used to the full when searching for solutions to ageing. Promoting health contributes to increasing people’s longevity, but also to reducing the cost of care.
Changes based on the digitalisation of operating models have the potential to increase the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of healthcare and the quality of services as well as to counter inequalities in access and outcomes. In many EU countries, there is still something of a disconnect between health and social services. The contributions emphasised the crucial importance of digital information systems in enabling integrated care.
The Member States also presented their ideas on the Commission’s initiative promoting cross-border exchange of health data. The idea is to establish a common European health data space to support the secondary use of health data in research and innovation. In addition to common EU legislation, launching a health data space would require the Member States to enact national legislation on data protection, data security and ethics.
Closer EU cooperation needed on access to medicines
The health ministers agreed on the need for more coherent action by Member States and the EU to facilitate access to medicines and improve patient safety. One of the objectives of the discussion was to find ways to strengthen strategic cooperation between the Member States and to enable more systematic monitoring of the impact of actions taken. The participants considered it important to ensure access to well-established medicines, to safeguard the reliable production of pharmaceuticals, and to prevent problems arising from disruptions in supply.
The ministers expressed their concern that problems with access had given rise to inequalities between different market areas and Member States. The reason for this is that pharmaceutical production and logistics are concentrated increasingly outside the EU. The situation is further complicated by the fragmented nature of subcontracting chains and the diversity of measures taken to mitigate risks associated with the production chain. If access to medicines cannot be guaranteed, an undesirable situation may arise. More expensive or potentially less effective products will have to be introduced. Supply disruptions and market withdrawals are also liable to increase costs and the workload of healthcare personnel.
Veli-Mikko Niemi, Director-General, tel. +358 2951 63425