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Impact of the Economic Crisis on EU Health Systems discussed at Health Ministers' Dublin meeting

05.03.2013, 14:40 GMT


Packed agenda also focused on childhood obesity, smoke-free environment & children with complex developmental needs.

Today, Minister for Health, James Reilly TD, concluded a successful meeting of EU Health Ministers as part of Ireland's Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

The Minister and his European counterparts dealt with a range of important health issues.  In particular, they discussed the impact of the economic crisis on health systems across the EU, as well as childhood obesity, progress to achieving a smoke-free environment and children with complex developmental needs.

There was broad support among Ministers to address the challenge of Childhood Obesity which is a major public health issue across the EU and requires multi-sectoral action.  The Minister was particularly pleased that the Commission responded positively to the Presidency's call for an Action Plan on Childhood Obesity.  This work will be taken forward by the EU High Level Group on Nutrition and Physical Activity.  It will contribute to the broader Europe 2020 Strategy through enhancing productivity and economic growth and reducing the burden of chronic diseases on EU healthcare systems. The Minister stated “this initiative reflects the importance that my colleagues and I attach to the issue of Childhood Obesity which has short-term and long-term implications at both an individual and a broader socio-economic level”.

Minister Reilly: My colleagues expressed their deep concerns about the negative effects of the economic challenges on health.  We are all engaged in similar efforts in order to continue to meet growing demand for health care with limited resources.

Minister Reilly said that across the EU, the impact of the economic crisis was being felt in the health sector.  “In Ireland, we are seeking to reduce the cost of services, not the services themselves, through a range of measures that encompass structural reform as well as efficiency measures.”  During the lunchtime discussion, Ministers shared experiences in order to learn from colleagues how expenditure can be reduced and more efficient services provided in a way that minimises the effects on quality.”

The Minister continued: “My colleagues expressed their deep concerns about the negative effects of the economic challenges on health.  We are all engaged in similar efforts in order to continue to meet growing demand for health care with limited resources.  Time and again, evidence-based policy making and evidence-based care and treatment were cited as the best way to enhance outcomes for patients.”  Minister Reilly suggested this topic should be kept on the agenda for future meetings of Health Ministers and of the Senior Level Working Party.

Discussing the meeting further, Minister Reilly said, “at the meeting, we acknowledged that good health needs to be recognised as a value in itself.  I will shortly be launching Ireland's health and wellbeing strategy which seeks to place good health at the centre of the national agenda.  Many European colleagues taking similar initiatives, recognising that good health is not simply about providing good health care but a whole-of-life approach is required.”

At the meeting, Ministers also discussed progress on achieving a smoke-free environment.  While Ireland was the first EU country to introduce legislation to ban smoking in public places, the Minister said “more work remains, at national and EU level, in order to address this issue and promote smoke-free environments.  Smoking is optional – breathing is not.  I congratulate the Commissioner on the publication of the proposals for a new Tobacco Products Directive.  It is vital that we progress  this important legislation as quickly as possible.”

The Commission presented a progress report on the implementation of the Council Recommendations on Patient Safety, including Health Care Associated Infections.  Considerable progress had been achieved but much work remained to be done and Ministers discussed priority action areas across all health policies.  Ministers also shared examples of best practice and other information in relation to services for children with complex developmental needs, in particular, autism.

In conclusion, the Minister said “This was a successful meeting where we had a fruitful discussion of a range of important health issues.  Despite the economic crisis, we shared many examples of reform and service enhancement which continue to improve patient outcomes.  We expressed a shared confidence that by working in partnership on issues like obesity and smoking we can achieve positive results across the EU.”

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Alan Baker, Press Officer

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