Priorities for recovery phase discussed at EuroHealthNet General Council Meeting

Europe’s leading public health and health promotion bodies met yesterday to discuss the EuroHealtNet Partnership’s work on health equity and sustainable wellbeing. The COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts naturally focussed the attention of the 61 member agencies from 26 European nations on new realities and challenges for their work in communities and internationally.  
 
Discussions focused on moving on from this stage of the corona crisis towards a recovery phase, which will include mitigation measures against potential new waves of the virus. The General Council agreed to undertake an urgent foresight study to analyse how public health and health inequalities may change in the coming period. This will be led by the Netherlands Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) in collaboration with the partnership. It is already clear that EuroHealthNet and its member agencies have vital roles to play on the ground in their home countries and in the future of Europe. This important study will guide our strategy in the coming years, during which we will see the implementation of the next EU multiannual budget and progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals.  
 
At the meeting European Commissioner for Health & Food Safety - Stella Kyriakides said:

“Health cannot be the responsibility of any one sector alone, including that of health. Instead, the success our European agenda depends on the multi-level and multisectoral cooperation. … I look forward to taking those steps alongside EuroHealthNet and its members. Together we can develop a healthier and more equal and more sustainable society.”

Describing a post-pandemic world, WHO Europe Regional Director - Hans Kluge said

“Perhaps we must look far beyond the ordinary and aim for the extraordinary.” He added that “The EuroHealthNet partnership plays a vital role in the WHO European Region…. [I look forward] to continuing and scaling up our already excellent collaboration”

European Commission Social Affairs Director – Katarina Ivankovic-Knezev noted proposed changes and opportunies to improve health and wellbeing for all in the EU’s next multi-annual budget and ongoing legislative proposals. She identified the European Pillar of Social Rights as being an important tool to build inclusive societies.

Representatives from national health agencies presented their strategies to move forward to mitigate the pandemic and its consequences for widening health inequalities.

Participants heard from Public Health Agency of Sweden about the national approach to controlling the outbreak of COVID-19 while keeping many areas of the economy open, and how decentralised governance shapes decision making in the country.

The Institute of Public Health (Ireland) noted a change in public perception: people now have a better understanding of health inequalities, and the importance of caring for the vulnerable is recognised; we are seeing a shift away from an individual-based view of health.

Santé Publique France shared details of their bi-weekly survey on the impacts of the pandemic and confinement on anxiety and mental health. The survey also addresses the determinants of mental health and the social gradient. The need to focus on the effect on people in insecure employment was noted.

Newly re-elected EuroHealthNet President Mojca Gabrijelčič Blenkuš said:

The General Council outcomes show how EuroHealthNet is a dynamic, modern, and well-grounded partnership. We are adapting and preparing for the challenges of the decade ahead, while acting urgently on the new needs for recovery from the immediate crisis situation.”  
 
EuroHealthNet Director Caroline Costongs said: “The updated Annual Work Programme, agreed at the meeting, reflects how we will support our members during the recovery phase. We are committed to continuing our work bridging EU institutions and our partners in European countries. I also look forward to enhanced liaison with International Organisations, particularly the World Health Organisation”. 

Four new members were welcomed to the partnership

  • The Italian National Institute of Health (l'Istituto Superiore di Sanità, ISS)
  • The Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (LISER)
  • The Italian National Federation of Professional Nursing Orders (FNOPI)
  • The Associazone Pianoterra (as associate partner)
     

The partnership welcomed the new European Union programmes, instruments and resources that have been proposed in the EU Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), to come into force from 2021. The potential transformation of EU actions for health, wellbeing, and equity are welcome and support the recovery phase for the coming years. Details must be swiftly clarified, negotiated, and implemented.

Identified important areas of work and progress at the European level include

  • Substantial provisions in the new stand-alone EU Health Programme ‘EU4Health’ 
  • Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan and research within Horizon Europe.
  • Health system transformations, health improvement, and equity as key features of the next EU long-term Budget. This includes:
    • Strengthened governance on economic, social, and sustainable priorities through the revised European Semester.
    • Potential progress on the European Pillar of Social Rights, especially its domains for accessible preventive and curative health and care 
      The EU Skills Agenda and Child Guarantee.
    • Funds for investment, innovation, and job creation (InvestEU); European Social Funds Plus (ESF+); the Just Transition Fund for socio-economic transformation in regions relying on fossil fuels and carbon-intensive industries; Cohesion funds; and Urban and Rural Development Funds.
  • The proposed ‘European Green Deal’, action on healthy, sustainable and fair food system in the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy, action plans on tackling climate change, work on developing circular economies, and progress towards the SDGs.

Health literacy has become central to the Europe Fit for a Digital Age’ communication