Healthcare in a Time of Austerity

On 4 September, the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) held its annual conference here in Brussels. The event proved a great opportunity to hear from many of the key stakeholders in the EU's health system and to garner feedback on how the health and well-being of people in Europe might be improved.

The EU's Health Commissioner, Tonio Borg, opened the conference and highlighted that Europe's leaders must prioritise the root causes of the problems within European healthcare systems. The key message was that the cuts to healthcare budgets instigated by 17 out of the 28 EU member states were often misguided and that opportunities to reform the systems to make them more efficient had been missed.

Across Europe, health budget cuts have had a huge impact on the sector's staff and research. Yet the cost and efficiency benefits that these measures set out to achieve remain to be seen. What ministers should recognise, according to Borg, is that 'improving people's health can also boost economic growth', meaning that a buoyant, adequately-funded health sector is crucial. Conversely taking money away from healthcare compromises peoples' health and productivity, ultimately holding the economy back.

In his message, Commissioner Borg said: "All too often, health is still primarily perceived as a cost, a drain, a burden - and not as an investment for the future which can pay great dividends. The future of EU health policy should build on the value that EU level legislation and cooperation can add to improve health outcomes. The Commission will continue to promote health as an investment with a view to securing good health for all."

He went on to say: "We must recognise that improving people's health can also boost economic growth by enabling people to remain active longer. It is therefore essential to promote cost-effective disease prevention and health promotion measures to reduce long-term treatment costs and improve health outcomes."

As an organisation constantly striving to deliver medicines that allow people to live longer, healthier more active lives, this is certainly a message to be welcomed.

Prioritising health policies was one of the aims set out in the Annual Growth Survey last year, so it is a promising sign that these issues remain at the forefront of discussions in Europe.

We certainly subscribe to the idea that investment in health is an investment in the future. Over the past 10 years, Lilly has doubled annual investment in research and development in Europe to more than €450 million (check out our infographic for more details on our involvement in Europe). It is an interesting time to be in Brussels at the moment as we look ahead to a new Parliament and Commission next year and the future direction of health policy.

It makes events like this one all the more important - we promise to keep you updated in the months to come!