Public health protection and support is an important part of the common EU policy. The significance of health is also emphasised in other EU policies, such as the Lisbon Strategy for Growth and Jobs, which stresses the connection between health and economic prosperity.

A no less important part of the common health policy is the creation of a single European market for pharmaceuticals, which would not only support human health protection, but also the development of the pharmaceutical industry, its competitiveness and research.

In the EU Council, health policy falls within the remit of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO), which meets four times a year. Health issues are usually dealt with on the second day of the EPSCO meeting, when health ministers convene.

Despite the fact that it is the member states that bear the main responsibility for the health policy and health care provision, cooperation at EU level is sometimes necessary – particularly in those areas where countries cannot act alone effectively. These concern serious health dangers and problems of cross-border or international impact, such as pandemics and bioterrorism, or issues related to free cross-border movement of goods, services and persons (particularly when trying to guarantee patients a certain extent and level of rights all over the EU).

Public Health

The EU consists of 27 countries with almost half a billion inhabitants, which is why coordinated reactions and activities can be of crucial importance on some health issues.
The European Union takes several steps, for instance in these key areas: nutrition, preventing and fighting obesity, restriction of smoking and its side effects, cooperation in the area of health dangers, epidemiological monitoring of various illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS, TBC or hepatitis B and C, cross-border health care provision or setting strict criteria for dealing with materials of human origin, such as blood, tissues and cells.

To achieve an effective and strategic organisation of the European health policy, the EU Council adopted two strategic documents in 2007:

  • The first is entitled Together for Health: A Strategic Approach for the EU (2008-2013). Its aim is to set priorities and lay down a basic orientation of the EU health policy. A priority of this strategy is the promotion of good health in an ageing Europe, protection of citizens against health dangers and promotion of dynamic health systems and new technologies.
  • The other document is the second programme of Community action in the field of public health (2008–2013). This is the principal financial instrument to implement EU goals in this area.

Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices

The pharmaceuticals and medical devices policy is another important European health policy. It has to do with the EU’s responsibility for the supervision of the compliance with the principles of the free movement of pharmaceuticals and medical devices as goods, while taking into account their immediate effect.

Since 1985, the EU has been trying to create a single European pharmaceuticals market. Its regulation should both protect people’s health and help to create conditions for competition on the pharmaceuticals market and standards for pharmaceutical research. The EU supervises the safety of pharmaceuticals throughout their life circle (this is known as pharmacovigilance).

The European regulation also lays down basic requirements for medical devices, and these requirements must be fulfilled before the medical devices can be marketed. If the requirements are met, the products receive the CE label.

Currently, a simplification of the registration of pharmaceuticals is being discussed. The simplification procedure in progress aims at reducing the administrative burden for the industry and at rationalising the requirements that bind the industry when applying for changes in registrations of human and veterinary medicinal products that have already been granted.

Priorities of the Czech EU Presidency

Together with the French and the Swedish Presidencies, the Czech Republic will concentrate on the financial impact of demographic changes and on the need for innovation, aiming to maintain a high quality of health service provision and to ensure access to these services. It is necessary here to find more effective instruments to ensure the financial sustainability of the health systems.
The most important factor for the increasing expenses on health care is not only the ageing population, but also the progress of and innovations in medicine and the increasing expectations and demands of patients. Health systems must face cuts in public finances, while the expectations of European society are bound by the principle of solidarity.

The Czech Republic will emphasise the financial sustainability of health systems in the long run – health systems in the context of public finances, long-term care and its funding etc. It is, of course, not only spending on health that must be taken into account. Effectiveness, solidarity and access to resources are also important issues.

EU competences should be neither extended nor deepened in this area. The goal of this priority is to promote the sharing of experience and exchange of information and to enhance communication among the member states, which influence each other more and more in this area as a result of the free movement of persons, goods and services, while retaining their sovereignty.

Furthermore, the Czech Republic will concentrate on "electronic Health", i.e. the issue of electronic integration of health services and the interoperability of information systems in the health sector (e-Health).

Effective sharing of information will be made possible by the digitisation and interoperability of health information systems. Digitisation in the health sector will allow electronic data processing (electronic medical records) and the interoperability of these data should make information collected at one health centre more intelligible to the information system of another health centre.
The goal of the priority concerning e-Health is, in general, to contribute to better health among citizens, make health service provision more effective for both Czech and other EU citizens and consequently improve the quality of this care and patient safety.

In connection with the activities of international organisations, the Czech Republic also intends to draw attention to the danger of the increasing resistance of bacteria to antibiotics and the risk that they lose their effectiveness to cure infections. This is a top health priority of the World Health Organisation and the European Union (or, more precisely, of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control). These institutions recommended to the EU member states to implement national programmes to control and prevent antimicrobial resistance, which is caused by excessive use of antibiotics and solved by measures preventing the spread of multi-resistant microbes.

Although the Czech Republic has a long-standing tradition of antibiotic policy, the resistance of some germs has been increasing alarmingly in recent years. Its increase causes higher morbidity and mortality, which leads to higher spending on health care and prolongs hospitalisation periods. Studies investigating excessive use of antibiotics, conducted in the Czech Republic at the beginning of this decade, showed that about 50 % of antibiotics were prescribed wrongly, which means a cost of at least one billion Czech crowns per year.

In general, the Czech Republic regards the recommendations on an effective implementation of national programmes for controlling antibiotic resistance and excessive use of antibiotics as a necessary step for a long-term maintenance of efficient infection treatment.

Drawing on EU-funded health care projects, the Czech Republic will concentrate in particular on the draft standards for hospital antibiotic programmes aiming to reduce the danger of antibiotic resistance and nosocomial infections in order to enhance patients’ safety and health care quality. Another goal is to recommend suitable models of support and funding of national antibiotic programmes by national governments and health care payers, especially health insurance companies.

Last update: 16.8.2011 16:02

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