Check against delivery.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear colleagues,

I am very proud of the fundamental role the EU, Member States, and European civil society played in the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals. We are all committed to meeting these targets.

However, achieving universal health coverage by 2030, which is enshrined in Goal 3, requires more than verbal commitment. It depends on strategic and sustained co-operation by all major stakeholders – and it requires reaching the most vulnerable groups in our societies.

In this light, the European Patient Forum's campaign deserves particular recognition, and I am delighted to be part of today's closing event.

So let me begin by echoing the EPF's call for every patient to have equitable access to patient-centred, high-quality health and social care.

This issue should be at the forefront of policy debate.

Too many European citizens are faced with problems accessing healthcare for a host of reasons, including austerity measure. This is short-sighted.

We know that limited access to healthcare has serious repercussions, reduces socio-economic growth potential and produces long-term effects that span generations.

Improving access to healthcare is a shared goal and to succeed, we need to mobilise multi-level and multi sectoral co-operation.

EPF's experience, expansive networks, and its direct interaction with patients mean that it is an invaluable partner with a wealth of knowledge. We need to do more to maximise that expertise.   

Let's discuss solutions and efforts underway at European level.

Firstly, the signature of the inter-institutional Proclamation of the European Pillar of Social Rights on 17 November is an important step forward.

The Pillar will mobilise efforts at European and national level and build a Europe that is based on high social standards. I warmly welcome the specific inclusion of principle 16 according which recalls that: "Everyone has the right to timely access to affordable, preventive and curative healthcare of good quality".

The mobilisation of existing tools, like the European Semester and funds, is one way to address gaps in access to healthcare and to benefit our citizens and the economy as a whole.

Accessibility to healthcare is stressed in this year's Country Specific Recommendations addressed to Latvia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Lithuania and Romania.

European Funds are available to support the implementation of the necessary reforms.

And the Structural Reform Support Service is on hand to provide technical assistance. Healthcare will also remain a key part of social reform efforts in the European Semester.

The Pillar plays an important role in our future and we are ready to do our part - but the overall responsibility for health policies is and will remain with national and local authorities.

The Expert Panel on Effective ways of Investing in Health is currently finalising an opinion on access to healthcare.

By setting out benchmarks and providing a self-assessment tool, it helps identify gaps in access to healthcare, understand the distribution of gaps within societies and develop a comprehensive and balanced reform agenda to address these challenges.

The opinion should also highlight a fundamental problem: access to healthcare differs greatly not only across, but also within Member States. 

This work will provide a practical tool to Member States, but will also inspire decisive steps, setting access to healthcare as one of the priorities for Member States who fall behind. I am confident that it will have a concrete impact on patients.

Improving the measurement framework is one of our main concerns for the coming period.

At the request of the European Parliament, we launched a pilot project to deliver refined indicators to measure access to healthcare.

We are also improving the existing data on unmet medical needs with a comparative report which we are now finalising on indicators in this area.

Ladies and gentlemen,

European health systems are under more and more pressure each year, due to aging populations, increasing demand and the development of innovative and often expensive technologies.

We have to do more, with less, for longer.

In light of this, the Commission has made strengthening country knowledge a key priority. The Commission's State of Health in the EU initiative gathers internationally-recognised expertise to strengthen country-specific and EU-wide knowledge in the field of health.

This will, in turn, support Member States in their evidence-based policy making and help maximise the effectiveness, accessibility and resilience of their health systems.

The first State of Health in the EU's Country Health Profiles, which I launched on 23 November, contains a wealth of knowledge, including on access to healthcare.

They feature the same core indicator for accessibility as the Pillar's Social Scoreboard: unmet need for medical examination.

This shows that in the Netherlands, Austria, Slovenia and Germany, 0.5% of the population or less report having unmet needs, whereas Estonia, Greece, Romania and Latvia report figures of 8% or higher.

Crucially, the profiles also look at broader social inequalities within societies as one of the determinants of access to healthcare.

The Commission's Companion Report complements the analysis with a few cross-cutting conclusions that have potential for mutual learning. It also highlights areas that require focus, which I believe are worth noting here.

  • Health promotion and disease prevention are priorities of mine – and I cannot stress enough their importance. The Companion Report encourages stakeholders to engage more proactively in disease prevention and the social determinants of health, which are key elements of accessible healthcare.
  • Strong primary care strengthens the overall health system’s performance and functions as a powerful entry point into the health system. As such, it plays an indispensable role in providing affordable and accessible care for all. 
  • Effective integrated care is crucial to address the rising burden of chronic disease and multi-morbidity, which requires countries to confront the fragmentation of health services and shift towards integration.
  • The Report also stresses the need for proactive health workforce planning and forecasting, which make health systems more accessible, more innovative, and more resilient to future shocks. 

Finally, the Companion Report emphasises the need for a patient-centred approach. More holistic, person-centred health data has enormous potential for improving the quality of care and the performance of health systems across the EU.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have done a lot of important work, and as I look around this room I see many of the most important stakeholders present.

We are building from a position of strength - but it is clear that we have much to do and little time to do it.

On our side the work will continue. But I cannot stress enough the importance of working together in a coordinated, strategic manner. In our respective roles, we need to focus on delivery of deliberate and determined action.

I am convinced that the EPF’s Roadmap Towards Achieving Universal Health Coverage for All by 2030, which is launched today, will show how convergent our interests are.

It will also feed into the broader reflection "towards a sustainable Europe by 2030" that President Juncker announced in September's State of the Union speech.

Achieving universal healthcare for all is an important, worthy goal, and I look forward to working closely with EPF and other stakeholders to ensure it is realised.

Thank you for your time.