Providing continuing support to health systems

By Olivier Véran, Minister for Solidarity and Health, France

The health crisis has shed light on both the global resilience of health systems and the need for support in all areas of care: primary care, mental health, and social services.

At the throes of the crisis, EU Member States showed a great deal of solidarity, notably by taking in patients from other countries in their intensive care unis. They also realised that several tools were lacking in order to make close cooperation a reality: insufficiently interoperable information systems, fragmented research and innovation support programmes lacking critical mass, health security agencies not adequately equipped to respond to the magnitude of the crisis, etc.

In light of this, the need to intensify the construction of a Europe of health became apparent in a bid to provide responses worthy of the issues at stake and to take swifter action, in a spirit of solidarity and collective security. Europe is determined to learn from the crisis, even if it is not yet over.

This closer cooperation between national health policies at EU level has already been fleshed out, in particular by the new EU4Health programme with a budget of €5.1 billion, but also by the “Europe of Health” package, the pharmaceutical strategy and the creation of a digital health data space.

The European Union must act where it brings real added value, and health security is one of the areas where more Europe could make us stronger as a whole.

With the draft regulations on cross-border threats and on the revision of the ECDC and the EMA, the European Union is on the verge of endowing itself with a legislative arsenal that will enable it to face future health crises more effectively and operationally. The EU is able to act quickly. And France welcomes the “HERA incubator” initiative put forth by the European Commission. We will capitalise on the experience gained from this programme to facilitate the setting up of the new European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority, which will provide the EU with more structural tools to anticipate and tackle future pandemics.

However, while increasing health security at European level is an essential first step, it is still insufficient to fully deal with the legacy of the Covid-19 crisis.

We also need to address the impact of the crisis on health systems, both at European and national level. Actually, the cost of improving the fight against health security threats is only a fraction of the costs incurred through epidemics.

Alongside these European initiatives, we must also rethink the provision of care at territorial level, by ensuring continuous patient care between cities, hospitals, and medico-social establishments. These investments are necessary for the day-to-day operation of health care services, but also to support the modernisation and transformation of the health care system to ensure its sustainability for the benefit of our populations.

With this in mind, the French government has launched a consultation of the players of the health system within the framework of the so-called “Ségur of Health”, the conclusions of which resulted in the adoption of a plan to boost investment totalling €19 billion.

These investments, partially financed by the European Recovery Facility, will enable better management of future pandemics by ensuring increased performance of the various working tools. The European Union has supported and continues to support each of the 27 Member States to help bring about these major developments in health.

The implementation of structural reforms seeks to improve the working conditions of caregivers and to put patients back at the very core of the healthcare system, as well as to address attrition of health professionals, improve medical attractiveness, and revitalise the provision of care and, more generally, the economic fabric throughout the country.

A €9 billion investment plan for hospitals will help to support projects aiming at breaking players free from their silos and, in particular, fostering city-hospital cooperation in the regions, especially when medical demography has been eroded.

It will focus on all areas of health and will be a lever for innovation and improve the quality and safety of patient care, by streamlining the care pathway and links between all health care actors.

Investment in health care will depend largely on the regional level and on the involvement of territories and their elected representatives in the decision-making process.

With the emergence of the Europe of health, we, the countries of the UE, will be able to benefit from cooperative mechanisms with a magnified impact that will increase the resilience of our health systems, while respecting our particular features.