A meeting of the MEP Interest Group on Equitable Access to Healthcare, organised jointly with the Patient Access Partnership (PACT) on 19 April, provided the occasion to address topical issues related to healthcare, equitable access, and health systems performance across the EU.
Introducing the meeting, PACT Chairperson Susanna Palkonen stated that ‘the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated pre-existing systemic healthcare problems and shone a harsh light on the principle of equitable access to healthcare.’ Interest Group Co-chairs, present at the meeting, also expressed their concern; MEP Sara Cerdas called for ‘identifying the gaps in equitable access to healthcare (who? how? why?) to meet the European citizens’ expectations.’ MEP Andrey Kovatchev supported the statement made by elaborating that ‘better access metrics can help us ensure that EU financial instruments can ultimately deliver meaningful change in favor of better access on the ground.’ Nevertheless, added MEP Tomislav Sokol, ‘as long as differences in access exist, we cannot speak of European solidarity.’
Against this background, the meeting explored new, more tangible, solutions for making European health systems adaptive and receptive to the urgent patient needs.
The first presenter of the meeting, DG SANTE Policy Officer Katarzyna Ptak-Bufkens presented an overview of current approaches and opportunities for improvement in access to healthcare, outlined in the recently published report by the Expert Group on Health System Performance Assessment. Katarzyna Ptak-Bufkens emphasized on the crucial role of comprehensive and standardized measurement tools across the EU. She also underlined that ‘The new report is set in the framework of the Pillar of Social Rights, in order to ensure better measurement tools for more targeted policy actions.’ The Action Plan for the implementation of the Pillar announced new tools to better measure barriers and gaps in access to healthcare that can help to align the provision of health services to health needs.
Hub Coordinator, Dr. Ewout Van Ginneken, representing the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies also provided interesting insights on whether a vignette approach can add to existing access indicators. Dr. Ewout Van Ginneken concluded his intervention by stating that ‘The vignette approach can identify gaps in coverage and access to recommended care as well as differences in treatment.’
Portuguese Health Attaché João Miguel Lança underlined the Portugal Presidency’s overarching health priorities, in context of access to healthcare and pointed out five key areas and namely reinforcing the public health cooperation, by building a European Health Union, supporting sustainable, equitable and universal access to medicines and medical devices, promotion of digital health, strengthen the EU role in Global health, alongside tackling the short- and long-term impact of COVID-19.
Ingrid Stegeman from EuroHealthNet reminded the audience that most inequalities in health are not due to inequalities in access to healthcare, but rather due to social determinants of health. She stated that a more ‘holistic’ approach to health and access to healthcare is needed that reflects wider socio-economic factors.
Dr. Daniel López Acuña, Adjunct Professor and WP8 Coordinator of the Joint Action Health Equity Europe (JAHEE) Initiative elaborated further: in order to reduce inequalities in access to health and social services ‘A true Equity approach is needed and should be a Universal one.’
European Policy Centre Policy Analyst Ms. Simona Guagliardo, underlined the need for a strong European Health Union, the need to learn and react swiftly to the pandemic to jointly shape the recovery from COVID-19. ‘Health should be seen as investment, but not a cost. People’s health and wellbeing should be linked with the social and economic prosperity’ concluded Simona Guagliardo.
There was agreement among the participants that in order to turn principles into a reality of more equitable healthcare, tools developed thus far should be flexible, adaptable according to experience. The added value of transforming policies into workable implantation strategies in the field of healthcare is key, resulting in impact and better outcomes for patients and society at Member State level.
The report from the meeting, along with the video recording are available below:
1. Full report by the Expert Group on Health System Performance Assessment.