Andriukaitis: Gastein health forum provides enormous added value

Vytenis Andriukaitis explains what challenges the EU can expect in the coming decades, how the Commission will be supporting the member states to keep their populations healthy, and addresses that viral tweet.

Vytenis Andriukaitis | Photo credit: Natalie Hill

By Julie Levy-Abegnoli

26 Sep 2016

As this year's European health forum Gastein kicks off in Austria, EU health policy chief Vytenis Andriukaitis is confident the annual gathering - now in its 19th year - can play a key role in improving health in Europe. 

The theme of this year's conference, 'Demographics and diversity in Europe: new solutions for health' is especially topical, he says, "as all European countries are directly challenged by an ageing population. They all have tough budgetary decisions to make, and new effective solutions to find."

For Andriukaitis, a former heart surgeon, "Gastein provides enormous added value in terms of launching initiatives, testing ideas, spreading messages, learning from one another and disseminating best practices. 


"If someone wants to have their 'finger on the pulse' when it comes to European health policy, I believe they would do well to follow this annual event."

Looking at Europe's ageing population and more and more people suffering from chronic diseases - sometimes more than one at a time - the Commissioner sees two main challenges facing health policy. 

"First, we need to plan and focus more on promotion and prevention. Our aim must be to keep people healthy for as long as possible: so that people remain active and contribute to society as they age.

"To promote healthy ageing we must address all the risk factors - tobacco, alcohol, nutrition, exercise, stress. This requires societal changes across a wide range of policies - to change the way we eat, drink, and live.

"Second, the health sector needs to adapt to the needs of the elderly: we need teams of health professionals to address multi-morbidity; we need to use eHealth solutions more to help provide care at home and maximise care and we need to find ways to improve adherence to therapy."

Andriukaitis recently announced the State of Health in the EU initiative for 2016-17, which he says will "bring together internationally recognised expertise to boost analytical capacity that will help the Commission and EU countries identify the key challenges in health and the best ways to tackle them."

The Lithuanian official adds, "As all EU countries are striving to do more with less, cooperation on health technology assessment (HTA) at EU-level can help decision makers formulate timely, safe, effective and cost-effective health policies. 

"The Commission has supported voluntary cooperation in this area for many years. With the help of a voluntary EU-wide network of HTA bodies and Joint Actions, we have built a solid knowledge base on methodologies and information exchange. 

"We have recently published an inception impact assessment which sets out various options for permanent and sustainable EU cooperation on HTA. The document is open for comments, and a public consultation will shortly be launched to gather views from the public and stakeholders on EU cooperation on HTA."

Technology will play an essential role in helping Europe tackle its health challenges, and the Commission is fully committed to making the most of innovative medicine. "I am convinced that the right eHealth tools can offer safe and efficient care and help alleviate the burden on our health systems. 

"It is therefore imperative, in my view, to seize the opportunities offered by the emerging European digital market and ensure that we create an environment in the EU in which practical, innovative, and cost-effective eHealth solutions can thrive.

"eHealth products and services are already firmly established within the public health and healthcare sector, and the key to maximising their potential is to ensure that the eHealth systems of all 28 EU countries can communicate with each other. 

"The Commission is working closely with member states on interoperability challenges so that patients can fully benefit from a digital single market in health. 

"Two concrete results are cross-border ePrescriptions and electronic patient summaries, and I am pleased that, already, 20 EU countries have applied for funding from the Connecting Europe Facility, to build up concrete capacity to exchange health data, ePrescriptions and patient summaries."

Andriukaitis made headlines a few months ago when he was spotted with his head in his hands, sitting behind former Ukip leader Nigel Farage who was giving a celebratory speech following the UK's Brexit result. 

The Commissioner's tweet about the incident is his most popular to date, garnering over 12,000 retweets and 10,000 likes. "We need more positive messages about what the European Union is and what it does or does not do. 

"Throughout my political career, I have always stood firm against hatred, lies and propagation of negative feelings. It is our role as politicians to propose a more positive project and we need to stand united to pursue the construction of our common house."

In a blog post, Andriukaitis blasted "the lies spread by some of the representatives of the Leave campaign" and "the toxic untruths spread by Farage and others". 

Three months on from the referendum and with no official date for Brexit in sight, he says, "In health policy, research and others, I believe it is too early to judge or speculate as negotiations have not started. 

"It is now for the new Prime Minister of Britain to launch negotiations by triggering the so-called article 50 procedure. In the meantime, the Commission is not saving up proposals and we are continuing our work."


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