The patient at the center of all health policies

By Sara Cerdas, MEP (S&D Group – Portugal), ENVI, SANT and COVI Committee Member

In the wake of the global COVID-19 crisis, Europe stands at a critical juncture in shaping its health policies and strategies for the future. The European Health Union has awakened and the European Union (EU) is becoming more and more active in health legislation considering our role in the treaties on protecting public health. Health systems are being rebuilded, strengthened and new approaches are now in practice to achieve these ambitious objectives. The major challenge from now onwards is making sure the patient is at the center of all health policies when transforming healthcare in Europe.

When considering a patient-centric approach one can fear that we are just applying a jargon of policy making; however, we can actually be consequent. Many political groups will try to take over this concept and use it as political priority when, not surprisingly, they will just feed their populist narratives.

Others will definitely address individual needs, preferences, and experiences to guide policy formulation as only responsive, socially inclusive, and effective delivery of high-quality universal health coverage care can really be at the heart of this very important principle.

The European Health Union is composed of many important legislative and non legislative files from digital transformation with an European Health Data Space, a Global Health Strategy, a new Regulation on Serious Cross-border Health Threats, better prepared and equipped European Medicines Agency and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, an European Beating Cancer Plan, a Pharmaceutical Strategy and a Mental Health Strategy, just to name a few.

Patients have to move together with digital transformations with joint steps based on a trustworthy system, with clear lines on transparency, accessibility, capacitation, and direct benefits from their valuable contribution. Healthcare delivery can be absolutely revolutionized and patient engagement needs to be enhanced. Electronic health records will finally be in their control and we must acknowledge the value that telemedicine and data sharing can bring, whilst respecting privacy and security.

A patient-centered approach in global health is making the EU concede the technological and legal means for third countries to properly manage and solve global crises such as in vaccine, medicines and medical devices manufacturing. Population growth worldwide highlights the importance of universal health coverage where the EU can play a pivotal role.

To achieve a patient-centered healthcare system, collaboration and cooperation among all stakeholders are essential. During the COVID-19 pandemic, an EU coordinated approach underlined the importance of better prevention, preparedness, response and control of cross-border health threats.

Although innovation, medicinal product development might play a significant role, primordial, primary and secondary prevention are at the core of a patient-centered approach and the same applies to non communicable diseases. This is why the European Beating Cancer Plan stresses so much on prevention and early detection and that the EU4Health Program 2021-2027 is such a powerful tool in modern health policy at EU level.

And we stand at a cross point where two jewels of this crown are left in the heart of a storm. The Pharmaceutical Regulation and Directive are presented in such a way where political consensus will only be possible in the mid future, very likely in the next mandate where populist groups will try to take over the patient-centered approach and turn it into a industry/private interest-centered approach. Moreover, Mental Health could have had the proper attention if 2023 was chosen to represent it and EU institutions could have had the space to develop more initiatives about it. Otherwise, it might be forgotten or even twisted in such a way where no social group representativity will exist.

The attention should now be turned into these two pieces in the chess table. Ensuring equitable access to affordable, safe, and effective medicines for all European citizens is paramount and mental health services accessibility, early detection, targeted campaigns and solutions to vulnerable groups must be the axis to where we should be going.

Let’s value involving patients in decision-making processes, promote health and digital health literacy and give health professionals the most crucial tools for delivering quality care.

As Europe navigates the post-COVID era, it must seize the opportunity to place the patient at the center of all health policies. Things might change after the next elections but our struggles will be similar. Is anyone ready to give up on a patient-centered approach?