Share the goal of faster and more equitable access to medicines for patients across Europe

By Nicu Stefănuţă, MEP, (Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance – Romania), Member of Subcommittee on Public Health

Access to affordable medicines represents a universal human right and a significant target included in the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN. Unfortunately, in Europe we are faced with a growing gap between Member States in terms of equitability in accessing medicine.

Although innovative medicines receive market approval for the entire EU, the facile and timely access to these medicines for patients varies differently from country to country, with some severe cases like that of Romania, reporting an average delay of almost 883 days.

While new developments in healthcare hold the promise of greatly improved health outcomes, these also lead to the risks of deepening inequalities and the development of new forms of discrimination and marginalization.

From my point of view, it is imperative that innovative treatments and new healthcare technologies are made available in an equitable and timely manner. Access to such novel treatments and technologies must ensure that everyone, without discrimination, is offered a fair opportunity to receive them in a safe and effective manner. We as a Union need to take better care in addressing the issue of growing inequality when it comes to ensuring that our citizens benefit from the same standard of care across all Member States.

Nonetheless, equitable access to medicine does not concern only innovative drugs, which are highly expensive, but also less expensive treatments like generic medicine which are plagued by a recurring medicines shortages phenomenon, driving patients and medical personal to find bio-similar treatments or to change the treatment altogether in some instances or even to pause the treatment with some severe consequences for the outcome of treatment.

The EU needs to find a common ground in fighting the growing health inequality gap, and the COVID-19 pandemic was useful in putting in the spotlight the misalignments between health systems across Europe and the need to have a holistic approach spearheaded by EU institutions in order to combat global health crises.

Solving the inequity gap requires a common and integrated approach to key issues like pricing, supply and distribution, market accessibility and regulatory frameworks. EU wide health technology assessment will allow medicine producers to apply for evaluation reducing waiting times and enabling innovative medicine to get to the patient’s bedside faster.

Other initiatives like joint procurement of medicine can lower prices and ensure an equal access to treatment for all patients, as well as combat the side effects of parallel trade of pharmaceuticals products due to price differences from one country to another.

Intellectual property (IP) needs to be upheld and the EU must become a world leader in medical innovation, but we must also make sure that IP is not used to prolong market exclusivity rights longer than allowed by law. Reaserch and development of novel medicine using public money should have this public subsidy reflected in the final price of the medicine.

Nonetheless, having equitable reimbursement for medicine is quite useless if there are still regions in the EU without proper access to proper medical infrastructure with trained personnel, so there is also a need to invest in capacity building and infrastructure modernization.

Close collaboration between Member States and the EU institutions is necessary in overcoming the growing gape in inequality, ensuring that financial instruments and legislative frameworks are design as such that there is a synergy in addressing key issues like accessibility, pricing and reimbursement, cross-border healthcare and innovation.