Policy

Health systems in the European Union seek to provide high quality and cost effective healthcare. This is particularly difficult to achieve for patients who have conditions requiring a concentration of resources or expertise, even more so for those suffering from low prevalence and rare diseases, as expertise is scarce.

Co-operation in healthcare between Member States has increased following the development of EU health policy. Albeit informal in most cases, a number of networks were established. Some of these are supported through the EU Public Health Choose translations of the previous link български (bg) čeština (cs) dansk (da) Deutsch (de) eesti keel (et) ελληνικά (el) español (es) français (fr) italiano (it) latviešu valoda (lv) lietuvių kalba (lt) magyar (hu) Malti (mt) Nederlands (nl) polski (pl) português (pt) română (ro) slovenčina (sk) slovenščina (sl) suomi (fi) svenska (sv) and Research Programmes, in particular in the area of rare diseases Choose translations of the previous link български (bg) čeština (cs) dansk (da) Deutsch (de) eesti keel (et) ελληνικά (el) español (es) français (fr) italiano (it) latviešu valoda (lv) lietuvių kalba (lt) magyar (hu) Malti (mt) Nederlands (nl) polski (pl) português (pt) română (ro) slovenčina (sk) slovenščina (sl) suomi (fi) svenska (sv) , paediatric cancer and neurological complex diseases.

Though, such co-operation was mainly based on bilateral agreements or common projects in specific fields. Also, accessibility to healthcare for patients varies across the EU. More efficient and coordinated sharing of resources and expertise was thus needed, and can be achieved through the creation of European Reference Networks (ERNs).

Concentrating resources and expertise

The European Reference Networks (ERNs) bring together highly specialised healthcare providers from different Member States. They help provide affordable, high-quality and cost-effective healthcare to patients with conditions requiring a particular concentration of resources or expertise.

The objectives of the ERNs are seen best achievable at EU level. These encompass:

  • better access of patients to highly specialised and high quality and safe care,
  • European co-operation on highly specialised healthcare,
  • pooling knowledge,
  • improving diagnosis and care in medical domains where expertise is rare,
  • helping Member States with insufficient number of patients to provide highly specialised care,
  • maximising the speed and scale of diffusion of innovations in medical science and health technologies. 
  • being focal points for medical training and research, information dissemination and evaluation.

Participation of healthcare providers in the ERNs is voluntary and requires acceptance of the criteria and rules for assessment and evaluation. The purpose is not necessarily to create new care centres but to link existing ones, and/or recognise existing networks. These networks will work as permanent platforms at EU level.

Expected benefits to patients and healthcare systems are improvements in:

  • services delivery, 
  • working systems,
  • patient pathways,
  • clinical tools,
  • earlier adoption of scientific evidence.

Legal background

Directive 2011/24/EU Choose translations of the previous link български (bg) čeština (cs) dansk (da) Deutsch (de) eesti keel (et) ελληνικά (el) español (es) français (fr) hrvatski (hr) italiano (it) latviešu valoda (lv) lietuvių kalba (lt) magyar (hu) Malti (mt) Nederlands (nl) polski (pl) português (pt) română (ro) slovenčina (sk) slovenščina (sl) suomi (fi) svenska (sv) on patients’ rights in cross-border healthcare:

  • clarifies the rules on access to healthcare in another EU country, including reimbursement,
  • requires the Commission to support the development of ERNs by adopting a list of criteria and conditions that the ERNs and healthcare providers wishing to become a Member of a ERN must fulfil and by establishing the procedure for the establishment and evaluation of the Networks (Article 12).

This has been achieved through the adoption of:

Both decision were adopted the 10 of March of 2014. Entry into force foreseen by May 2014.

Public consultation

The criteria to determine the scope of the European Reference Networks and to select healthcare providers wishing to join the network were inspired by a public consultation where stakeholders could give their input.