It is time to step up work with local and regional authorities on priority EU measures which can help cut inequalities, By Leonardo Palumbo

03 December 2014

The EU Committee of the Regions (CoR) is due to adopt an opinion on the European Commission (EC) Communication COM (2014) 215 on Effective, accessible and resilient health systems, which is drafted by Mr Karsten Uno Petersen, a Danish social democrat councillor.  The opinion recognises the role played by local and regional authorities in promoting public health and the contribution this makes to health and care system resilience. What is notable in this opinion is the role of the health sector in combating the social consequences of the economic recession. However it stresses that policies to respond to the economic crises must be analysed with respect to their potential negative impact on public health. Regional and local authorities advocate for a social inclusion strategy, including broad access to affordable and high-quality health services, to stem rising health inequalities among the Member States.

These calls from the CoR echo recommendations by local and regional authorities after EuroHealthNet, plus the network of regional offices working on health (EUREGHA) and  EuroHealthNet partner the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR), co-organised the event “How to tackle Health Inequalities in Europe? “ in Brussels. This seminar focused on action for reducing health inequities through political commitment at all levels. The EU has policies and programmes that can be used to improve health equity, such as Health for Growth, Horizon 2020 and EU social, regional development and structural funds. 

EuroHealthNet also used this event to show how the EU Social Investment Package (SIP) can be implemented and how regions can use it to encourage inter-sectorial work, despite concerns that such approaches are perceived as too ‘’top down’’. The seminar headline recommendations were:

1. Implement a whole-of-government approach to health equity
2. Highlight the reduction of health inequalities in EU policies and programmes
3. Facilitate increased engagement of local and regional authorities
4. Further engage with WHO Europe and its networks.

Evidence shows most concrete actions takes place at sub national levels within national frameworks and strategies. The European Commission should therefore engage in continuous dialogue with regional and local authorities, directly and through European networks as expert interlocutors, to ensure that the issue of health inequalities is high on their political agendas and encourage further action to reduce them.

EuroHealthNet will use these recommendations in its work on implementation of the SIP and contributing to the Europe 2020 Semester processes 2015 onwards. Too often, many potential partners outside ministries are not being systematically engaged in the design of the process and identifying priorities, which is contributing to a lack of coherence. Not involving regional, city and community bodies is a missed opportunity to have their expertise and improve accountability of EU 2020. EuroHealthNet will also continue to work closely with its growing numbers of regional and municipal partners on the ground, plus the CoR in Brussels, to maximise implementation of policies which promote local health equity, sustainability and wellbeing via the EC programmes.

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