Self-care as a fundamental pillar for wellbeing in Europe

With health systems and budgets increasingly strained across Europe, self-care offers an opportunity to reduce the burden. A timely discussion in the European Parliament shone a light on how policymakers can support self-care and empower consumers as they review the EU’s pharmaceutical legislation
The Parliament Events

By The Parliament Events

Our events bring together MEPs, policy-makers from across the EU institutions and influential stakeholders to share ideas and discuss the issues that matter at the heart of European politics

04 Jun 2024

Self-care is one of the most underutilised resources in the fight against rising costs and declining capacity in Europe’s healthcare systems. Recent research found that up to 25% of GP appointments across Europe are booked to consult about minor ailments which could be treated by pharmacists. If a self-care approach was adopted in Europe where pharmacists were consulted for minor ailments, savings of up to 18 billion Euros could be made with time won for GPs to deal with more serious issues. 

Experts from across the medical and pharmaceutical industries joined MEPs Susana Solís Pérez, Seán Kelly and Beatrice Covassi to discuss how the vital role of self-care can be recognised and enshrined in the EU’s revision of its pharmaceutical legislation at a panel discussion organised by The Parliament in partnership with Kenvue. 

Event host MEP Solís Pérez reinforced the European Parliament’s commitment to ensuring that any revision of the EU’s pharmaceutical legislation must focus on affordability, accessibility and availability of medicines. “These concerns are crucial if we want our healthcare systems to serve the needs of the European citizens – no more first class or second class patients in Europe” she argued. As Shadow Rapporteur for the European Parliament’s report on the European Health Data Space, Solís Pérez also drew attention to the potential of digital innovation within the healthcare sector to help support self-care. “Digital technology possesses the ability to provide patients with reliable and trustworthy access to digital information around medications” she explained, something which is often lacking in Europe.  

Kenvue

Carlton Lawson, Kenvue’s Group President of Europe, Middle East and Africa & Latin America demonstrated the importance of self-care. “Self-management of minor ailments has a profound effect on society by enabling patients, supported by community pharmacists, to look after their health and wellbeing, and in doing so contributes significantly to a sustainable healthcare system” Lawson stated. Presenting Kenvue’s European self-care survey, Lawson revealed that 85% of European consumers are confident to treat common ailments, with 62% stating that if they could not get the treatment that they need in their pharmacy they would visit a doctor to get a prescription. With 49% of consumers having chosen to go to a pharmacy instead of a doctor in the last 12 months, self-care has an important role to play in supporting sustainable health systems in Europe.   

Central to this self-care awareness lie two key topics which were covered in the panel discussion: health literacy and the role of pharmacists. 

"Self-management of minor ailments has a profound effect on society by enabling patients, supported by community pharmacists, to look after their health and wellbeing" - Carlton Lawson, Kenvue Group President of Europe, Middle East and Africa & Latin America

“Health literacy is a new term for many” Kristine Sørensen, founder of the Global Health Literacy Academy told the room “but it is knowledge that we were brought up with”. “Lessons as simple as an apple a day keeps the doctor away are basic forms of health literacy” she highlighted. Despite this, one in two people still struggle to find relevant and trustworthy and health information in Europe, a fact that Sørensen labelled a ‘public health challenge’.  

The importance of health literacy has been reflected in societal trends. On a recent trip to Google, Sørensen learned how the pattern of searches around health have moved from ‘what is’ a condition before the pandemic, to ‘how to’ treat conditions post pandemic. This shift reflects a move towards a greater health literate society, with some governments across Europe enshrining this commitment such as Austria adding health literacy as one of its ten national goals and Norway launching a second version of their national health literacy plans.

“I believe public health approaches based on a strengthened personal responsibility, like a more systematic practice of self-care, can help save time and cost” - MEP Susana Solís Pérez, Renew, Spain

In a self-care focused society, pharmacists play a central role in terms of both treatment and health literacy. Ilaria Passarani, Secretary General of PGEU, the Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union, explained that pharmacists are a trusted source of information for the public. “The role of pharmacists goes beyond prescriptions. Pharmacists guide people to make informed choices and provide information which can impact lifestyles and choices. Providing knowledge like this empowers consumers” Passarani informed attendees. A need to transform from a society managing sickness to promoting wellness was seen as central to the self-care mindset shift for consumers, with Passarani stating that “in a self-care journey, a pharmacy can be a hub of health and wellbeing”.  

The capabilities of pharmacists is something which still varies across the EU. “In some countries, pharmacists can provide vaccinations, and in these countries we tend to see higher rates of vaccination” Passarani explained. MEP Covassi recognised this imbalance, adding that “medical desertification in Europe is something that we feel more and more in regions in particular”. To address these imbalances, a centralised European approach towards self-care was seen to be crucial.  

“Medical desertification in Europe is something that we feel more and more in regions in particular” – MEP Beatrice Covassi, S&D, Italy

Luis Rhodes Baiao, Government and Public Affairs Manager at AESGP, the Association of the European Self-Care Industry, shed further light on the imbalance across Europe by highlighting access to medicines in pharmacies. “When we cross borders, we don’t access the same medications in each pharmacy” he explained. “For example, you won’t be able to get the same ulcer pill over the counter in some countries like Croatia which you can across other member states” he added. This lack of accessibility was something identified as a blocker for self-care. This is an issue panellists highlighted as an opportunity to support selfcare rather than promote more medicinal products under prescription in the EU’s pharmaceutical legislation review. 

What’s next for self-care? A need to look at the data and take science based decisions were identified as the key actions to be taken for both Carlton Lawson and Ilaria Passarani to encourage a self-care supportive legislative environment. Kristine Sørensen and Luis Rhodes Baiao called for legislators to recognise the need to change behaviour and create a wellbeing society. 

“Pharmacists guide people to make informed choices and provide information which can impact lifestyles and choices. Providing knowledge like this empowers consumers” - Ilaria Passarani, Secretary General of PGEU, the Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union

Identifying the potential of European legislation in supporting self-care, MEP Solís Pérez committed to looking into what could be done in the realms of legislation to promote self-care. “I believe public health approaches based on a strengthened personal responsibility, like a more systematic practice of self-care, can help save time and cost” she concluded.  

Meanwhile MEP Kelly warned that any legislation around self-care and health must be proportionate and should do no harm. Instead, he called for policymakers to be practical and engage with stakeholders and society to get sensible regulation, particularly the EU pharmaceutical legislation review, to help self-care. 


In partnership with

Kenvue

This article was produced in partnership with Kenvue. 

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