Turning research into policy to tackle Europe’s NCD crisis

Europe’s health systems are under increasing strain. Rising levels of need demand new approaches that focus on disease prevention and early detection, particularly of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). A major new report from the Partnership for Health System Sustainability and Resilience (PHSSR)’s EU Expert Advisory Group has now highlighted a way forward that could help shape Europe’s health systems of tomorrow
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By The Parliament Partner Content

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01 Dec 2023

Health is an issue that connects each and every one of us. As the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated, the ability of health systems to function during times of crisis is essential in ensuring a healthy and prosperous future.

But the pandemic, alongside other major challenges such as climate change, conflict and economic instability, also revealed some of the fault lines that currently exist within health systems. This was particularly true for those who live with long-term conditions and NCDs including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory and kidney diseases.

Now a major new report from the Partnership for Health System Sustainability and Resilience (PHSSR)’s EU Expert Advisory Group has identified a way forward for EU policymakers and legislators that can help improve prevention and early detection of NCDs and identify effective policy responses.

The PHSSR EU Expert Advisory Group was established to support EU institutions in building the sustainability and resilience of the health systems that European citizens depend upon. Its members include senior policymakers, academics, clinicians, economists, and patient representatives, from institutions such as the European Commission, WHO, and OECD, as well as Civil Society.

Drawing on the substantial body of work developed by the PHSSR to date, including the assessment of the sustainability and resilience of health systems in 10 EU Member States, the PHSSR EU Expert Advisory Group identified prevention and early detection of NCDs as a critical health policy issue the EU should address to ensure health systems are strengthened for the future.

Co-chair of the PHSSR EU Expert Advisory Group MEP Tomislav Sokol explained to The Parliament Magazine why he believes that the new report should signal a shift in approach from the EU when it comes to tackling the urgent issue of non-communicable diseases.

“NCDs represent the most pressing health issue in the EU,” Sokol tells us. “They account for more than 90% of deaths and 80% of the overall disease burden. This important new report draws upon expert insight and evidence to make recommendations for action to enhance the prevention and early detection of NCDs. That requires a shift in mindset, where health systems and structures see their role as supporting health, not simply addressing illness. We should view health through a long-term lens, treating it as an investment rather than a cost.”

The report specifically focuses on the role that EU institutions can play in shaping a policy framework that enables Member States to achieve a step change in the prevention and early detection of NCDs. This includes increasing sustained EU investment under the next Multiannual Financial Framework, improving the data infrastructure through the implementation of the European Health Data Space, enhancing air quality, and undertaking comprehensive evaluations of prevention and early detection interventions to inform EU and Member State policymaking.

Professor Elias Mossialos from the London School of Economics who also co-chairs the PHSSR EU Expert Advisory Group believes that only a systemic approach can deliver the changes benefiting millions across the European Union. Focusing on recommendations within the EU's domain, he is confident that the new report offers a pragmatic roadmap for enhancing healthcare across Europe.

"The pressing nature of the issue highlights the key role of the EU, not solely in raising awareness but in actively supporting Member States to enhance NCD prevention and early detection", Professor Mossialos explains. "This necessitates innovative tools and thorough evaluations of prevention and early detection strategies, shaping both EU and Member State policies. Establishing this framework enables localised efforts to address the health challenges posed by NCDs”.

 

The EU has been continuously increasing its role and investment in healthcare in recent years. Cancer has been a high political priority in the current EU political cycle resulting in the creation of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. Most recently, the EU has also established the Healthier Together NCD Initiative to tackle the leading causes of premature deaths.

These initiatives are still in their early stages and much remains to be done to realise their full potential. The publication of the PHSSR EU Expert Advisory Group report comes at an important time, as policymakers grapple with the challenge of rebuilding health systems that are resilient to the many crises they face today.

The report follows closely behind and echoes many of the recommendations in the own-initiative report on NCDs by the European Parliament Public Health (SANT) Committee, which was voted in the ENVI Committee on November 7th, 2023, and will soon be sealed by a vote in plenary. This political focus reflects the need for immediate action with both reports urging the EU to further its ambition in tackling NCDs.

Past and current crises teach us that, when it comes to large-scale health challenges, international, multi-stakeholder cooperation is key – both in conducting breakthrough research and implementing new solutions. Those principles of collaboration and coordination are at the heart of the PHSSR and the approach its EU Expert Advisory Group has set out for EU institutions in the new report.  

“The challenges caused by NCDs can only be addressed if the EU sets an ambitious policy approach for their prevention and early detection and Member States effectively share information and work collaboratively with one another,” MEP Tomislav Sokol explains. “That is the driver of the PHSSR EU Expert Advisory Group. By bringing together research expertise and policymaking, we can help find a new path forward that puts prevention and early detection at the heart of the EU’s commitment to sustainable and resilient health systems. In fostering a united front against NCDs, it is crucial for the EU to leverage technological advancements and innovative healthcare solutions. Embracing a holistic and data-driven approach will not only enhance the efficiency of preventive strategies but also pave the way for more adaptive and responsive health measures across Member States.”


Key Recommendations

  1. Increase and ensure sustainable, dedicated EU investment in prevention and early detection of NCDs under the next Multiannual Financial Framework.
  2. Improve available data on NCDs, including by tasking an existing EU agency to carry out surveillance of NCDs across the Union.
  3. Ensure the implementation of the European Health Data Space includes data infrastructure to enable successful prediction and detection of NCDs.
  4. Undertake comprehensive evaluations of prevention and early detection interventions to inform EU and Member State policymaking.
  5. Update the 2012 Action Plan for the EU Health Workforce and improve incentives for healthcare professionals to specialise in public health and health data science.
  6. Align the EU air quality standards with the WHO Air Quality Guidelines, incorporating robust monitoring and enforcement mechanisms.
  7. Create action plans addressing NCDs with a high and preventable burden, such as cardiovascular diseases, taking into account common risk factors across NCDs.

In partnership with

PHSSR

This article was produced in partnership with The Partnership for Health System Sustainability and Resilience (PHSSR). PHSSR is a non-profit, global collaboration between academic, non-governmental, life sciences, healthcare, and business organisations with a unified goal to improve global health by building more sustainable and resilient health systems for the future. The PHSSR seeks to facilitate cross-border and cross-sectoral collaboration to accelerate the strengthening of health systems by enabling international knowledge exchange and collaboration with health system stakeholders. 

To learn more about the PHSSR, its member organisations, findings and recommendations please visit www.phssr.org and follow the PHSSR on LinkedIn to receive regular updates.

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