The Patient Access Partnership is a patient-led multi-stakeholder network bringing together patients, the medical and public health community, industry and the European and member states policy makers and institutions, in order to develop and move forward on innovative solutions to reduce inequities in access to quality healthcare in the European Union.
The Partnership emerged from the political momentum after the adoption of the Vilnius Declaration Call for Action – “Sustainable Healthcare System for Inclusive Growth in Europe”, affirming:
“To ensure universal access to high quality people-centered health services” and for “a partnership approach between all stakeholders in the health sector at national and European levels… to improve equity of access to healthcare”.
- Socio-economic background
The economic crisis has affected strongly our society. Millions of people have lost their jobs, and their security and wellbeing have been negatively influenced. The crisis has also put health systems under severe pressure. Reinforced European Economic Governance, through the European Semester is scrutinizing public budgets of the EU Member States to ensure strict budgetary discipline and lower deficits to levels necessary for the European economy and the Euro zone, contributing to austerity measures also in the sphere of health. This happens at a time when health systems are already facing the pressure of growing demand for healthcare due to an ageing population, among other issues. Over recent years, increased demands and expectations of citizens combined with the growing cost of innovation led to increasing health expenditure, which were growing faster than the GDP in many countries.
- Initiating the debate
To raise these issues, the National Patients Organization of Bulgaria (NPO) and the European Patients’ Forum (EPF) organized a number of events and multiple stakeholder meetings to further explore the issue of rising inequalities in access to healthcare in Europe.
This issue of major concern was discussed in public at the conference “Health Inequalities in the New EU Member States. Policy makers and patients – creating the change”, initiated by the Bulgarian National Patients′ Organization and supported by the European Patients’ Forum, which took place in Sofia in September 2012 when policy makers and stakeholders from 12 ′new′ EU Member States and 3 candidate countries discussed the challenge posed by the existing inequalities in access to quality healthcare across Europe.
On June 26th 2013, the European Policy conference on Equity of Access to Quality Healthcare was organized at the European Parliament in cooperation with the European Patients′ Forum and the Bulgarian National Patients′ Organization. The aim was to explore EU policy opportunities that have not been sufficiently outlined so far but also to establish a brand new partnership in terms of EU policy-making to address healthcare inequalities. A highly positive feedback was received from the stakeholder partners which clearly suggested the necessity to continue with our efforts to address the unequal access to quality healthcare in a systematic manner.
- Partnership on equity in access to healthcare
This lead to the idea to set up a structured partnership approach at the European level with the participation of all stakeholders for finding innovative solutions to reduce inequities in access to quality healthcare in Europe.
The Partnerhip will give impetus for strengthening health policy influence at European level in view of the new Commission and new Parliament elected in 2014. Stakeholders mandated NPO and EPF to start and lead the organization of this structured partnership as a separate legal entity, operating in the framework of the European Health Policy Forum, which is the main advisory body of the European Commission.
The Partnership will mirror the discussion of Member States within the framework of the Reflections Process on modern, responsive and sustainable health systems, by supporting efforts for developing effective mechanisms for ensuring equity of access to healthcare, while preserving sustainable health systems.
- Political backing
The Partnership was already presented and welcomed by the EC DG SANCO and a large number of MEPs participating in the InformalMEP Discussion on equity of access to quality healthcare, held in the European Parliament on January 28th. The event was hosted by Dr. Andrey Kovatchev, MEP. The event aimed to kick off a debate on this issue of major concern across Europe and gather dedicated MEPs to address this issue.
The discussion outlined policy strategies and instruments to be prepared for the next EP legislature, thus ensuring continuity of the European Parliament′s efforts and commitment in tackling the problem.
- Gaining momentum
The major Lithuanian EU Presidency Conference on “Sustainable Health Systems for Inclusive Growth in Europe” took place in Vilnius, on 18-19 November 2013. It lead to urgent call for immediate action to protect Europe’s healthcare systems. The NPO Chairperson, Dr. Stanimir Hasurdjiev highlighted that “There are many patients in EU who need access to quality healthcare urgently. Therefore, European policy makers, member states, healthcare experts, industry and patients organizations need to work in collaboration and partnerships to find solutions that save lives of patients most in need now.”
The Conference resulted in the Vilnius Declaration described by Commissioner Borg as “a crowning document” of all the work done by the Lithuanian Presidency to ensure healthcare systems are sustainable for the future. It represents a collective commitment to rethink how health systems operate, where patients play a role, through patient empowerment and supports ‘access’ as a key priority.
It provided the opportunity for a next round of discussions on the strategic tasks, structure and operation of the Partnership.
- Stakeholder meetings
A couple of Stakeholder meetings took place respectively in November 27th ,2013 and March 20 th, 2014 that brought together the patients’ movement, the medical community, the payers, the industry, the policy shapers and implementers, and the politicians to move forward on solutions and approaches to access that really work for patients and address the current barriers and inequities.
The focus of the meetings was to discuss and define the vision/mission and future priorities of the Partnership, to update on legal status and advice on possible governance structure options, funding strategy as well as next steps for 2014 – 2015.
Given the volume of work identified in the meetings, and given the relative urgency, a number of participants volunteered to support to advance specific pieces of work.