Minister Poklukar, Ministers, Distinguished Guests,
I am delighted to join you today. And let me begin by thanking Slovenia for putting health systems front and centre during its Presidency.
Health systems resilience is a crucial component of the European Health Union and of our efforts to build stronger and more equal societies.
It starts with good crisis preparedness and management capacity, but it does not stop there. It covers other fundamental elements, like sustainability, effectiveness and accessibility.
COVID-19 has painted a very clear picture for us. It showed exactly what happens when health systems are unprepared and lacking resilience.
Health systems have been forced to divert resources to manage the high demand for COVID-19 treatment. This has led to the postponement of other crucial interventions, such as cancer screening and treatment.
Building resilience will help us to avoid this scenario in future. It will prevent disease, improve conditions for patients, and save lives.
The question, then, is how?
The Commission Communication on early lessons from the pandemic provides some answers.
We need REFORM and INVESTMENT. And we need to work together.
The European Union offers many tools and funding opportunities. And, as today’s conference will highlight, a number of actions under the European Health Union will help Member States strengthen their health systems.
Stronger cooperation between Member States, combined with technical support and financing from EU programmes, can be a recipe for success.
Many countries in Europe are already reforming their health systems. Member States are putting more emphasis on disease prevention, shifting to primary care, integrating care around people's needs, and making wider use of digital technologies.
Later today, we will hear about important health reforms in Slovenia, Finland, Austria and Czechia.
Innovative reforms typically start small, with pilot projects. Getting these early steps right is key.
However, real change happens when we move from pilot projects to wide-scale adoption. To do this successfully, we need two things.
First, sufficient investments, and, second, know-how and capacity to design and implement innovative reforms.
Let me talk about investments first.
The EU has several tools to support investments in health systems, thanks to its budget and the NextGenerationEU recovery package.
I want to touch on three of them right now: the Cohesion Policy Funds, plus two programmes that emerged as a direct result of the pandemic: the Recovery and Resilience Facility and the EU4Health programme.
- First, the Cohesion Policy Funds are a major source of financial support to health authorities. From 2014 to 2020, more than 7,000 health-related projects were launched with more than EUR 8 billion in financing.
- Tomorrow, Commissioner Ferreira will outline how that crucial support will continue in the coming years.
- Second, under the Recovery and Resilience Facility – the centerpiece of NextGenerationEU – Member States plan substantial investments in their health systems to address long-standing challenges and drive the recovery from the pandemic.
Most have now submitted their Recovery and Resilience Plans, which include around EUR 50 billion for health investments -- including hospital and digital health infrastructure, primary care, mental health and disease prevention.
- Third, the EU4Health programme, with a budget of EUR 5.3 billion, will support actions to improve health in the EU, tackle health threats, make medical products available and affordable – and, of course, strengthen health systems.
Next up is how to design and implement reforms. Again, collaboration is key.
At EU level, we have several mechanisms to translate the available knowledge and guidance into practical support for health authorities. They include:
- the new Knowledge Centre on Cancer, the first flagship action delivered under Europe's Beating Cancer Plan;
- a Resource Centre for Integrated Care on the EU Health Policy Platform; and
- a portal for best practices in preventing and managing non-communicable diseases.
Later on, you will hear more about the Steering Group on Health Promotion and Prevention and Management of Non-Communicable Diseases. The group selects and transfers best practices based on the political priorities and needs of Member States.
Through this process we have launched a Joint Action to transfer best practices in integrated care, and we are planning another to transfer best practices in primary care under the EU4Health programme.
Primary care is a strong component of the Slovenian health system, and we expect Slovenia’s experience to feature strongly in this Joint Action.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The pandemic has exposed like never before the weaknesses in our health systems. At the same time, it has given us an important opportunity and push to build more resilient health systems.
We need to grasp that opportunity together. So let us make today the beginning of renewed cooperation towards resilient health systems that can deliver quality care to all.
We are ready to help Member States learn from best practices, design investment plans, and make the best possible use of the available EU instruments.
And I look forward to working with the Slovenian Presidency on the outcome of the conference.
Together, we can build back better.