Thematic papers on the main health challenges facing Europeans in vulnerable situations were released at the event. More than 100 participants – including health and social care professionals, and policy makers from EC DG Empl and DG Sante amongst others – discussed the issues and responses in four workshops at the VulnerABLE conference.
The participants engaged in lively discussions around four main thematic areas:
- Universal approach to healthcare. Responsiveness to changing needs and the importance of “making the invisible visible” was discussed, as well as the new challenge posed by the growth of digital consulting. A need for enhanced collaboration from EU and Member State level all the way through to practitioners and patient level emerged.
- Multi-sectoral approaches. Ways to cement short-term isolated projects within governing structures were mentioned, with learning from community groups highlighted as an important aspect. Experts agreed that equity was needed in all polices to address health inequalities, not just health and social care.
- Addressing real needs. The importance of co-production in service and policy design and delivery for success was stated, where individuals should be seen as the experts in what they need; “their priority needs to be your priority to make interventions work”. We need to identify the ‘roots of the causes’ of vulnerability and develop a deeper understanding of the complexity of the issues.
- Addressing the socio-economic determinants of health. Caution was flagged where investment in one area could lead to a reduction of funds in another, leading to discussion around successful practices that do not directly address health but have an indirect effect. Experts underlined the importance of working ‘upstream’ and understanding policy maker’s language so that strategies can be influenced.
The conference came to a conclusion with the European Commission stressing the opportunities arrising from the potential proclamation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. The new Joint Action on Health Inequalities (starting in 2018) demonstrates ongoing commitment to preventing vulnerability; it will build upon the work of this project and previous work conducted under the Expert Group on Social Determinants and Health Inequalities.